A recently released study by researchers has confirmed what teachers have known forever – sleep-deprived students do not perform as well as those who get sufficient sleep.
“If teens’ sleep patterns are in conflict with their natural circadian rhythms, then that also has repercussions on cognitive function and emotional regulation as well as potential health consequences,” said Dr. Judith Owens, director of Sleep Medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed why teens were getting too little sleep and what the long-term effects might be. The data reported was drawn from surveys of adolescents across the United States in the 1990s, and follow-up studies as those students grew into adulthood.
According to the report in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it’s estimated that between 45 and 85 % of all 6th – 12th graders sleep less than the recommended 9 hours on school nights. Additionally, 44% of those students reported difficulty remaining awake during the school day.
Lauren Asarnow and her colleagues used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a large ongoing study mandated by Congress. The study began in the 1994-95 school year when 2,700 teens in grades 7 – 12 were interviewed about their bedtimes during the school year and during summer vacation. They have been followed through four Waves since that time.
In the first Wave, 23% of the teens surveyed reported going to bed at 11:15 p.m. or later during the school year; 73% said they usually slept less than 9 hours a night.
In 1996, (Wave II), 22% of the students reported going to bed at 1:30 a.m. or later during the summer and 23% said they went to bed after 11:15 p.m. Further, 80% said they usually slept less than 9 hours per night.
The study found that students who had late school bedtimes in Wave I were more likely to have emotional distress in Wave III (2001-2002). Late school-year bedtimes in Wave II were not linked to emotional distress in Wave III, but late summertime bedtimes were.
In both Wave I and II, late school-year bedtimes were tied to lower grade point averages; late summer vacation bedtimes were not.
Interestingly enough, while bedtime appears to be an important link to later distress for students, researchers found the same did not seem to be true in terms of short total sleep times.
The authors of the study indicate it does not prove that late bedtimes cause distress or problems at school, but it did show an association. They wrote, “these findings underscore the … importance of intervention strategies that target bedtimes in an effort to reduce associated functional impairments, and improve academic and emotional outcomes.”
One of the intervention strategies might be the changing of school opening times for middle and high schools since they often do not occur within the natural circadian rhythm of students.
“Adolescents really can’t fall asleep much before eleven and are biologically programmed to wake up about eight,” Owens told Reuters Health. She added that adolescents typically need about nine hours of sleep in order to perform at optimal levels.
“People who are sleep deprived tend to perceive less in the way of negative consequences for taking risk and so they’re more likely to take them,” stated Owens. “Different physiological systems are developing in adolescence; the jury is still out about what kinds of long-term health effects this may be causing.”
Owens’ concern is not much is known about the long-term effects of sleep issues which makes her worry those issues may be setting kids up for being overweight or obese, having type II diabetes and/or having cardiovascular consequences.
A more immediate concern is drowsy driving. Studies have shown that impairments associated with sleep loss are equivalent to, or worse, than impairments associated with moderate levels of intoxication.
Owens advises parents to set strict rules that require their teens to get about 9 hours of sleep every night, with similar bedtimes each night, including the weekends. While this may not make parents popular with their teens, it is essential to their overall well-being. And, while naps are not a substitute for a good night’s sleep, a short afternoon nap can recharge a teen’s batteries.
Parents of younger children may be interested in a separate study that suggests brain connections strengthen as kids sleep. That information can be found at http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/sleep/brain-connections-strengthen-as-kids-sleep-study-suggests?ocid=msnnws.