Sleepy Teens Could Face Serious Health Problems

Sleep loss could lead to obesity and other health problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Staying up late, watching TV at night and drinking coffee may not seem like dangerous activities, but they can seriously harm adolescents' health.

Researchers reviewed recent studies on sleep loss in older children and teenagers. They found that chronic sleep loss is a major problem among adolescents.

Sleep loss in this age group could lead to poor performance in school, obesity and drowsy driving.

"Encourage your child to get at least eight hours of sleep."

Judith Owens, MD, MPH, FAAP, of the Children's National Health System, led the review.

According to the authors, chronic sleep loss and sleepiness can pose serious health and safety risks to adolescents. Additionally, sleepiness and daytime impairment can lead to worse performance in school.

This review looked at current research on sleep loss among adolescents, its causes and possible solutions.

Researchers examined studies of sleep that involve adolescents or parents reporting sleep patterns and habits that might affect them. The authors of the review noted that most of these studies concluded that children and teenagers do not get enough sleep.

One poll found that 75 percent of students in the 12th grade get less than eight hours of sleep each night. Only three percent of 12th graders were sleeping nine or more hours per night.

The review found that several factors play a role in adolescents not sleeping enough.

For example, some studies have found that adolescents' changing biological clocks make it harder to go to bed earlier. Additionally, a sleep poll found that 57 percent of adolescents have televisions in their rooms and 90 percent had music players.

According to the researchers, use of electronics at night has been tied to less sleep and more daytime sleepiness. The authors also suggested that light from electronics simulates daylight, which could disrupt the body's natural sleep cycles.

Another study has shown that delaying school start times by about an hour resulted in more sleep for students. 

Caffeine may also play a role in children and teenagers getting insufficient sleep. However, the authors were uncertain whether adolescents turn to caffeine because they are already sleepy or if caffeine causes sleep loss.

The authors of the review also discussed the consequences of a lack of sleep. They referenced several studies that have linked sleep loss to mood disorders and even thoughts of suicide.

Additionally, the authors noted that studies have tied sleep loss to increased obesity risk for both adolescents and adults. 

Drowsy driving is also a significant safety risk for adolescents. In a recent study, 40 percent of high school students reported sleepiness while driving.

The authors of the review concluded that sleep loss in children, adolescents and young adults pose serious threats to health, safety and well-being.

They suggested that pediatricians address sleep loss and emphasize the importance of healthy sleep behaviors.

The authors also emphasized the need for educational and health programs that promote healthy sleep.

The study was published in Pediatrics on August 25.

The authors did not disclose funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 22, 2014
Last Updated:
August 25, 2014