Bradley Hospital, in coordination with Brown Medical School, has recently published several studies that indicate children and teenagers alike are not getting enough sleep. Researchers look at why and what affects it may have on young people.
In one study, Christine Acebo, PhD, of the Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory, looks at sleep patterns in children ages one to five wearing small activity monitors.
“We were very surprised to find how little preschool aged children actually sleep at night. Children in our sample slept only about 8.7 hours at night and less than 9.5 hours per 24 hours when naps were included. This contrasts with the 12 to 15 hours usually recommended for children this age,” says Acebo.
Researchers found that children in the study awoke more often during the night than previously thought and that 82 percent of children older than 18 months did not nap on some or all days. Acebo says that researchers are concerned about what problems too little sleep could cause later in life. Other studies show that decreased sleep in older children, teenagers, and adults may lead to physical and cognitive problems including—decreased physical performance, lower academic performance, mood problems and reduced cognitive and other daytime functioning. Several studies in adults also link lack of sleep to neuroendocrine abnormalities that may lead to overeating and obesity.
Two other studies, led by Mary Carskadon, PhD, director of the Bradley Hospital Sleep Laboratory and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School show that the biological trigger that causes sleepiness, or “sleep pressure” changes in adolescents.
Numerous studies have reported that as children go through puberty, they struggle to go to bed early. Carskadon’s study indicates, that in addition to changes in teen’s internal clocks, adolescents also experience slower build up of “sleep pressure,” or the urge to fall asleep. This means that for teens, the pressure to sleep doesn't kick in until later in the evening compared to younger children who have faster sleep pressure rates. As a result, many teens are simply not getting enough sleep.
"Young people live in nearly a constant state of chronic insufficient sleep," says Carskadon, "and adolescents who don't get enough sleep on a regular basis are extremely impaired in the morning."
Lack of sleep doesn't just affect athletics in teenagers. Studies repeatedly show that reaction time, vigilance, learning and alertness and mood are impaired by insufficient sleep; so students with short nights and irregular sleep patterns perform poorly in school and in other aspects of their life and have a tendency for a depressed mood.
"Circadian and lifestyle changes conspire to place sleep of adolescents at a markedly delayed time relative to younger children and to adults," says Carskadon.
In fact, studies have shown that teenagers need as much, if not more sleep as younger children (an average of 9.25 hours per night) but as they mature, their bodies are able to stay alert later into the night.
Carskadon also cites part-time jobs, caffeinated beverages, social activities, away-games and long practices as a few of the many factors that help contribute to chronic sleep deprivation for young people.
For more information on the sleep studies at Bradley Hospital, call 401-421-9440. See a list of current sleep studies open for children and teens.