We all know that teens don’t sleep enough. Why don’t they?
Parents, you aren’t going to like the reason: it’s your fault.
Why Teens Don’t Sleep Enough
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) performs an annual poll to learn more about the way Americans sleep. In 2014, the poll focused on parental attitudes toward their children’s sleep. In particular NSF asked parents how much they valued sleep and how much sleep they believe their children actually got.
Parents were asked to fill out a survey on the internet. Questions were asked about demographics (age, socioeconomic status, etc), followed by questions about sleep.
Most parents (>90%) reported that sleep was either “very important” or “extremely important” for good mood, health, and performance in both themselves and their children.
However, almost 90% children did not in fact sleep the recommended number of hours, whether they were younger children or adolescents. The children in the study reportedly sleep fewer hours than children in other comparable developed countries.
Children 6-11 years of age ideally should get about 10 hours sleep. Teenagers should get 9 1/2 hours. In the NSF study, both groups got about one full hour less sleep than recommended.
Adolescents (12-17 years old) slept fewer hours than their younger siblings during the week. However, on weekends, both groups slept the same number of hours.
The survey was concerned not only with quantity of sleep, but also with quality. Slightly less than half of parents thought the quality of their children’s sleep was “excellent” or “good”.
Limits Setting and Enforcement
The survey was particularly interested in rules setting and enforcement, and the effect of rules on sleep. The results were significant.
Long hours of sleep were significantly associated with parents being married, always enforcing rules about how late the child can consume caffeine, and never leaving any technology on in the bedroom. Excellent sleep quality was significantly associated with always enforcing a bedtime for the child and with never leaving any technology on in the bedroom.
Not surprisingly, if parents slept with electronic devices, so did their children. Many parents admitted on the survey that they would read and respond to text messages after they had planned to go to sleep!
“Technology” was defined as virtually any electronic device with a screen, including television. In the age of the cell phone, the television continues to be the biggest contributor to loss of sleep.
TV is a Bad Actor
The study did try to explain why television appears to be worse than cell phones for inhibiting sleep. We can make some guesses, however.
It is well known that the blue light emitted from screens is bad for sleep. Exposure to this light tends to delay the sleep cycle and to increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (“sleep latency”). Television screens are larger than cell phones or tablets. In fact, on average television screens are larger than they have ever been! It’s possible that the larger the screen, the larger the amount of blue light. As a result, sleep is even more inhibited.
Like it or not, parents are role models for their children. It’s not reasonable to hold your kids to a standard that you yourself cannot keep up. If you have a television in your bedroom, how can you deny one to your child? If you sleep with your cell phone or tablet on your end table, your child is going to find out.
The parents who sleep the best, and who have children who sleep the best, make rules about technology use, enforce those rules, and observe the rules themselves!
Removing technology from the bedroom is easy, or should be. More difficult is modeling behavior for your children around healthy bed times. The NSF study showed that parents who get enough sleep quantity and quality have children who also sleep long and well.
Caffeine use is an important contributor to sleep hygiene, but it’s not often discussed. This study does us a favor by raising the issue of caffeine consumption in both parents and children.
As an admitted caffeine addict, I appreciate that the issue is being raised and I’m grateful to the NSF for bringing it up. I’m also grateful that my children have not inherited my addiction. But perhaps we’re not merely lucky. We make a conscious effort to model healthy eating and drinking behavior for our children. The same goes for exercise.
My own parents were heroic coffee drinkers and neither lifted a finger of exercise. How my sisters and I ever became health nuts will remain a mystery. Perhaps our parents modeled better behavior than I give them credit for.
Most children today are not so lucky. Parental modeling of behavior matters.
When I counsel a family about a sleep problem, I’m really counseling the entire family. To me the expression “sleep hygiene” refers to the sleep habits of the entire family, not just a child’s.
The truth is, fixing a child’s sleep problem often means fixing the entire family’s sleep problem. If you want to find out more, feel free to contact me. I can help.