A new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has found that the number of teenagers getting adequate sleep has declined over the past two decades.
It also found that female students, racial and ethnic minorities, and students of low socioeconomic status slept less than their counterparts.
The study, which used data collected between 1991 and 2012, asked US high school students two questions: if they regularly slept for seven hours or more per night; and if they normally got enough sleep. The results showed that sleep decreases throughout adolescence, with a particularly dramatic drop at the age of 15. Over a period of twenty years, the rate of sleep deprivation rose in all the groups studied.
The causes behind this decline are complex. “Although the underlying reasons for the decreases in the hours of sleep are unknown, there has been speculation that increased Internet and social media use and pressures due to the heightened competitiveness of the college admissions process are adding to the problem,“ said Dr Keyes, lead author of the research paper.
The reasons behind the ethnic and socioeconomic trends are also unknown. The paper suggested that poor quality housing, obesity and sleep apnea, all of which affect Black and Hispanic children disproportionately, could be to blame.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get around nine hours of sleep a night. However, more than a quarter of the students surveyed missed that target.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to a number of issues, from mental health problems and obesity to academic difficulties and substance abuse.
“Declines in self-reported adolescent sleep across the last 20 years are concerning and suggest that there is potentially a significant public health concern,” stated Dr Keyes.