It’s been a long time since we’ve done trivia

Yes, it has been a long time since we’ve included a trivia question in a post. Let’s rectify that right now. Ready?

Children and adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for which of the following?

  • Obesity
  • Poor mental health
  • Diabetes
  • Injuries
  • Attention and behavioral problems
  • None of the above
  • All of the above

See below for the answer. But first, let’s get started with this week’s topic - teens and sleep…

Quote of the week

Teenagers don’t need less sleep the older they get. They still need as much sleep as they did when they were pre-teens…We, as a society, are asking them to sleep at the wrong times.
– Mary Carskadon

Tales from a sleep-deprived sleep researcher

During graduate school I took a full course load every semester, conducted and published research, assisted professors with their research, and taught multiple courses. Just to keep up, I worked 12+ hour days, 7 days a week, and slept very little - 3am was a pretty common bedtime during those days.

After grad school I founded and worked in tech startups during a time when working around clock and sleeping under your desk was not only tolerated, it was rewarded and mythologized.

In addition, during college I worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research helping conduct research on sleep. One of my jobs was…wait for it…to prevent people from sleeping for days at a time during sleep studies.

All of this is to say, I know quite a bit about not getting enough sleep. I can tell you with confidence that claims some make about how they can function perfectly on 4 hours of sleep a night, wearing it almost like a badge of honor, are wrong. Lack of sleep and/or poor sleep quality not only seriously reduces your cognitive functioning, it can be highly detrimental to your physical and mental health.

Allow me to share one example (of many) from my days at Walter Reed that illustrates just how quickly the effects appear and how little we recognize them. After participants (healthy adults) arrived we would connect a dozen or so electrodes to their heads and start them on a series of tests every few hours over the course of a few days.

One of my favorites was the Stroop test. Words written in different colors are presented on a computer screen to the participant who must identify either the word or the color of the word as quickly as possible. For example, the word Green may appear in either green or red.

The participant is either asked what word they see (green) or what color the word is (red). As you may have guessed, it’s much easier for participants when the word and color are the same. We measured whether the participant was correct/incorrect and the speed of their responses.

The first several testing sessions occurred during the day when participants were fully awake and not yet sleep deprived, allowing us to establish baselines. And then night came, and the sleep deprivation began.

It was fascinating (and a bit unnerving) to see just how quickly cognitive performance declined. As night progressed many participants took longer and longer to respond and got more and more answers wrong.

I know what you may be thinking - well of course, they’re tired at 4 am and it’s hard to focus. True, but these effects continued throughout the remainder of the study even during daytime hours. Responses improved somewhat during the day, but compared to the baseline (before sleep deprivation), cognitive functioning deteriorated significantly.

And just to make it more interesting, participants believed they were performing at roughly the same (high) level as their baseline throughout the study. They didn’t realize their cognitive functioning or performance has declined.

As much as I enjoy stories form the good ole days, let’s get back to teens and sleep. In this article we look at whether teens sleep differently than the rest of us, how much sleep we really need, some of the negative impacts of inadequate sleep, and what parents can do to help teens get more sleep.

Do teens actually sleep differently than the rest of us?

Does it seem like when your child became a teen their sleep habits changed almost immediately? You weren’t imagining things - it probably did. And although many many parents find this frustrating or even maddening, the change is real and it’s normal.

“Teens experience a natural shift in circadian rhythm,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Laura Sterni, M.D. This makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Add in early school start times and an increase in homework, extracurricular activities and sometimes a part-time job, and sleep deprivation in teens becomes common. However, says Sterni, it’s important that parents help teens do the best they can, because this age group needs more sleep than we might realize.

You can read the full article here.

Matthew Walker, one of the leading experts on sleep, has an excellent video series explaining many facets of sleep, including this one about how teenagers sleep differently than children and adults.

click here if the video above doesn’t load properly

So how much sleep do teens need?

Research indicates that teens need 8 - 10 hours of sleep, with 8 hours being the minimum amount and 9 - 10 hours being preferred.

“According to Johns Hopkins pediatrician Michael Crocetti, M.D., M.P.H. , teens need 9 to 9½ hours of sleep per night—that’s an hour or so more than they needed at age 10. Why? “Teenagers are going through a second developmental stage of cognitive maturation,” explains Crocetti. Additional sleep supports their developing brain, as well as physical growth spurts. It also helps protect them from serious consequences like depression or drug use…”

You can read the full article here

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some of the impact of inadequate sleep.

Negative impacts of inadequate sleep and the answer you’ve been waiting for

The answer to the trivia question - you’ve patiently waited so here it is. The correct answer is, All of the above. That’s right, inadequate sleep is associated with obesity, poor mental health, diabetes, injuries, attention and behavioral challenges, and more.

In fact, research shows that the physical, mental and behavioral consequences of sleep deprivation are profound. This is bad news when you consider 60% - 70% of US teens are not only failing to get the recommended amount of sleep each night, they border on living in severe sleep debt.

“Sleep deprivation puts teenagers into a kind of perpetual cloud or haze, explains Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island. “One of the metaphors I use is that it’s like having an astigmatism. You don’t realize how bad your vision is until you get glasses or in this case, good sleep.” That haze, she says, can negatively affect teenager’s mood, ability to think, to react, to regulate their emotions, to learn and to get along with adults.”

In addition to lack of adequate sleep being connected with risky behavior, injuries, and more, it may also be a trigger for mental health issues. Please continue reading this article from Child Mind Institute here

Some ways parents can help their teens get more sleep

As is often the case, we’re not helpless in the face of challenge. There are many things we can do to help our teens get the sleep they so desperately need. A few of the ways we can help include shifting family routines that encourage effective sleep habits and setting up the right kind of environment for sleep.

Check out this article for more ways to help your child improve their sleep, and as a results, their lives.

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