Study Refutes Perceptions That Some Teens Just Don’t Need Much Sleep

Friday, August 18, 2017

Despite perceptions that adolescents who get little sleep on school nights simply do not need much sleep, a new study suggests that increasing the duration of sleep among “short-sleeping” teens reaps emotional benefits.

The study supports calls for public health efforts to promote adolescent sleep, according to Dean Beebe, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and senior author of the study.

“We worked with teens who regularly got five to seven hours of sleep on school nights to see if we could get them more sleep,” says Tori Van Dyk, PhD, a post-doctoral scientist working with Beebe at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “Most teens pulled it off, with an average difference of about an hour more sleep each night. And they felt better, with improvements in sleepiness, anger, vigor, fatigue and confusion.”

The study is published online in the journal SLEEP.

Fifty-four high school students completed the five-week study, in which they slept in their normal, home setting, kept nightly sleep diaries, and were monitored using actigraphy – a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. The first week they kept their normal sleep schedules. Then, for two of the weeks, researchers had participants follow that same schedule. For the other two weeks, researchers met with each parent and teen to problem-solve ways to extend their sleep on school nights.

Participants averaged an additional 73 minutes of sleep per night during the sleep extension period. Even with that additional sleep, participants still fell about 30 minutes short of sleep recommendations. Yet, they felt the benefits of the additional sleep time.

“A combination of late bedtimes and early school start times result in habitually short sleep for many teens, says Beebe. “Nearly half of high school students sleep five to seven hours on school nights, well below the clinical recommendations of eight to 10 hours a night. Large-scale studies of teens have indicated that sleeping less than recommended predicts poor academic functioning, worse mood and increased suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Our findings confirm that many adolescents would benefit from lengthening their sleep.”

Financial support for the study was provided through the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation and a grant from the State of Ohio Emergency Medical Services (#134987).

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Jim Feuer
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