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Declining Teen Sleep and the Link to Peer and Parent Relationships

A new study, published in December in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, concludes it is not only biological factors that are causing disruption to adolescents’ sleep. The study, led by Professor Maume from the University of Cincinnati, suggests that social ties, including relationships with peers and parents, may be even more important than biological changes as predictors of teen sleep behaviours.

Other research has previously pointed to a reduction in the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, as well as the negative impact of back-lit devices before bedtime, as explanations for why children get less sleep as they become teenagers. This study of the school night sleep patterns of nearly 1,000 adolescents from when they were 12 to 15 years old, found parental monitoring (including adhering to a regular bedtime) strongly determined healthy sleep habits. Professor Maume said: “Parents who monitor their children's behaviour are more likely to have kids that get adequate rest.”

During the 12-15-year-old period, Maume discovered the average sleep duration dropped from more than nine hours per school night to less than eight. The study also uncovered a number of other interesting findings:

  • Adolescents slept for longer and had higher quality sleep when they felt they were a part of the schools they attended or had friends who cared about academics and were positive, social people. "Teens who have pro-social friends, tend to behave in pro-social ways, which includes taking care of one's health by getting proper sleep," Maume said.
  • Girls reported more sleep issues – waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep; losing sleep due to worrying about homework, friends, or family; having trouble falling asleep in general; and having trouble waking up – than boys. "Some research has suggested that women report more sickness than men - even though men typically die younger than women - because women are socialized to be introspective and to recognize illness," Maume said. "This may apply to sleep problems as well."
  • Increases in adolescent television watching resulted in marginally longer sleep but with slightly more sleep issues; and increases in computer usage were associated with both less sleep and more sleep issues. “My findings related to computer usage were what I expected," Maume said. "It's possible that television watching may be associated with longer sleep if most of the viewing is taking place on the weekends when these kids can sleep late rather than go to school in the morning."

This new research suggests there are potentially more useful and less-invasive approaches than medicating adolescents to improve their sleep. "My research indicates that it's necessary to look beyond biology when seeking to understand and treat adolescents' sleep problems. Such an approach may lead to more counselling or greater parental involvement in teens' lives…”

Professor Maume’s advice to parents: “Given that children generally get less sleep as they become teenagers, parents should be ever more vigilant at this stage."

The accepted guideline from sleep experts is that your teenager will require about nine hours sleep per night.

Image from freedigitalphotos.net