A new study examined 20 years’ worth of data regarding the amount of sleep that teens are getting and the trend is unsettling; there have been consistent declines in sleep between 1991 and 2012. In 2012, more than half of the adolescents surveyed age 15 or older said they slept less than seven hours per night. That is two to three hours less than doctors recommend, and demonstrates a nearly 20 percent decrease in nightly sleep for that age group since 1991. Lack of sleep can contribute to poor health and poor academic performance. Trends were also observed based on factors such as gender and socioeconomic status. Students who were poor, of a minority group, residents of urban areas, or female all are more likely to report being sleep-deprived.
The data being analyzed was collected by a program called “Monitoring the Future”. They survey approximately 50,000 students annually, asking a variety of behavioral questions. Among the questions are: “How often do you get at least seven hours of sleep?” and “How often do you get less sleep than you should?” The latter is aimed at determining whether or not teens know what constitutes “enough” sleep. The combination of answers to these two questions showed that many teens do not recognize that they are getting an inadequate amount of sleep.
Researchers hypothesize that there are a multitude of factors affecting the increasing trend of sleeplessness. Some blame a rise in “screen time” due to social media, although the most dramatic drops in sleep occurred before Facebook and other sites became popular. Others cite the demanding lifestyle of the modern teen- early school start times, jobs, sports, and socializing. There is also the possibility of obesity as a cause, as obesity disrupts sleep, and the trends between sleep and obesity in the past two decades show inverse proportionality.
From personal experience, I think the increasing demands for teenagers are likely the primary causes. As these teens progress through high school, they are receiving constant pressure to perform well academically, become involved in extracurricular activities, make time for socialization so that they are not outcast, and find a job if it is financially necessary. Teens are constantly competing at this juncture to become the successful and well-rounded candidates that colleges are seeking. They are thus overscheduled, and there is simply not enough time to complete all the planned activities and reserve at least seven hours for sleep. Imagine a student who must go to school, to sports practice, to their job, do hours of homework, have dinner, and socialize, all in one day. Logistically, there may not be seven hours left before the process repeats. In my opinion, the issue is deeply rooted in the dynamic of our society and in order to properly address the problem of sleeplessness, we must first address the societal causes.
Posted by Meghan Harrington (Group B)