Teens don’t get enough sleep, and that can affect their health
Did you sleep well last night? If not, you’re in good company. About a third of American adults don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people don’t get enough sleep or sleep poorly because of their jobs or hectic schedules: They work long shifts at night or have to rush to get their kids ready to catch a 6 a.m. school bus. Some 50 million to 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night.
Plentiful evidence suggests that sleep performs a range of vital functions, including restoring damaged tissues, boosting learning and memory, and flushing toxins from the brain. Sleeping too little can have serious long-term health consequences, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A recent study in Pediatrics highlights the importance of sleep for teenagers, who often struggle to get the recommended eight to nine hours per night of shut-eye. Out of the more than 800 adolescents in the study, only 2.2 percent got enough sleep, and less than half achieved desirable rates of “sleep efficiency” — the percentage of total time in bed actually spent asleep.
Teens short on sleep were more likely to be obese — a trend found in previous studies — and scored higher on several other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and poor glucose metabolism. Those who slept longer and better tended to have less fat around their waists, lower systolic blood pressure and higher levels of “good” cholesterol — all signs of cardiovascular health.
One of the authors of the Pediatrics study, physician Susan Redline of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that to reduce our society’s high rates of chronic disease, we need to ensure that children — as well as other sleep-deprived groups such as minorities and shift workers — get better sleep. In the following Q and A, she discusses sleep’s powerful influence. This discussion has been edited for clarity and length.