Can Sleep Loss Affect a Child’s Health?

It was your childhood routine: five days a week, from Monday through Friday, you groggily woke up to prepare for another day of school. It was considered normal then, but now concern has been mounting since the release of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) new policy statement, which sites chronic adolescent sleep loss as a public health issue. Read more

In a report, the AAP recorded an increase of chronic sleepiness in children and recommends that middle and high schools initiate a 30 minute to one hour delay in school start times so students can catch some more zzz’s. In fact, the AAP states that “doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

Dr. Carin Lamm, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at CUMC and Director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, agrees with the report, saying, “The National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, taken during 2014, found that 29 percent of 12-14 year olds and 56 percent of 15-17 year old students were regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep per night. The recommended sleep duration for this age group is 8.5-9 hours, leaving them significantly sleep deprived.”

The AAP’s findings show that “adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer from physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents, and a decline in academic performance.” The report states that, typically, 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. are getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep, and high school seniors get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. As a direct result, 28 percent of high school students attest to falling asleep in class at least once a week, while one in five say they fall asleep while doing homework daily.

As a parent, the report can be alarming. But if chronic sleep loss is a public health issue, why not send teens to bed at an earlier time? “The biological rhythms after puberty are shifted so that an adolescent is generally not sleepy before 11:00 p.m.,” says Dr. Lamm. “This late bedtime makes it impossible to get the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep if the teen must get up early for school. Over time, this leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which is associated with hypertension, being overweight, depression, inattentiveness, poor academic performance, and increased car accidents.”

That’s a biological issue. Add that problem to other outside factors like video games, the Internet, and cellphones, which have the potential to keep children awake well into the night, and it’s a wonder how they get any sleep at all.

But beyond lobbying to delay school start times, there are things you can do to ensure your child gets enough rest. “Chronic sleep deprivation can be avoided by establishing regular bedtimes, regulating caffeine intake, avoiding afternoon naps (which make it harder to go to sleep early enough to get sufficient sleep), and limiting screen time close to bedtime which can be alerting and make it difficult to fall asleep,” says Dr. Lamm. “Studies show that parent involvement in enforcing these strategies can help assure success.”

To learn more about sleep issues or disorders, visit the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center’s website.