Getting enough sleep is vital for adolescent health, yet over the last 20 years, many teens appear to be sleeping less and less, according to a new study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Specifically, those who get the least amount of sleep are female students, racial/ethnic minorities, and students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
The study, which is the first to cover sleep trends by age and time period for U.S. teens, involved more than 270,000 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. Participants answered a nationally representative survey from 1991 to 2012 reporting how often they slept seven hours or more per night.
Students answered if they got seven hours of sleep every day, almost every day, sometimes, rarely, or never. The survey did not control for weekday versus weekend wake-up and sleep times.
Racial/ethnic minorities and those whose parents had little formal education said they were receiving adequate sleep and yet were less likely to regularly get seven or more hours of sleep, suggesting a mismatch between actual sleep and perceptions of adequate sleep.
“This finding implies that minority and low socioeconomic status adolescents are less accurately judging the adequacy of the sleep they are getting,” said Katherine W. Keyes, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author.
Fifteen-year-olds showed the greatest percentage decrease in getting seven hours of sleep per night, a particularly disturbing trend for many at an important juncture in development. Among this age group, in 1991, 72 percent reported regularly getting seven-plus hours of sleep per night; by 2012, however, this decreased to 63 percent.
The largest declines for all adolescents occurred between 1991 and 1995 and 1996 and 2000. The differences among race has increased in more recent time periods.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get nine hours of sleep per night. Inadequate sleep is linked to a wide range of health problems including mental health issues, academic problems, substance abuse, and weight gain.
“Although the underlying reasons for the decreases in 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 Keyes.
“Declines in self-reported adolescent sleep across the last 20 years are concerning and suggest that there is potentially a significant public health concern that warrants health education and literacy approaches.”
The paper is published online in the journal Pediatrics.