Adolescents : a harmful<br>sleep deficit

Adolescents : a harmful
sleep deficit

According to recent studies*, almost 30% of 15-19 year olds have a sleep deficit, and among those aged 15, 25% sleep less than 7 hours a night. Yet they should be averaging 9h30! This lack of night rest, which plays a fundamental role in our well-being and physical and mental balance, as shown by many research studies, is often linked to the chronic and time-consuming use of new technology… with multiple repercussions on their daily lives and their health. An "education" in sleep, trade-offs must be made…

* HBSC 2010 (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) and Health barometer Inpes 2010

Jean-Pierre Giordanella, a doctor who has written a report on sleep for the Ministry of Health, recommended in 2006 a "minimum sleep duration of between 8 and 9 hours in adolescence, with a bedtime never later than 10pm." These recommendations are far from being followed! In practice, we have observed that adolescents go to bed late and get up late, or very late at weekends when social constraints do not apply: we speak of phase shift, and here phase lag. These shifts start off with physiological causes: the circadian cycles (wake/sleep) of adolescents are disrupted by the hormonal surges of puberty; then the lowering of body temperature that aids sleep is delayed, the secretion of melatonin also occurs late into the evening, and in the morning cortisol secretion is also delayed. This hormonal commotion has always existed but the time has long gone when a good book would help you get off to sleep…

Take note: teenagers try to catch up on lost sleep at the weekend but the deficit is not always cleared.

A lazy Sunday morning lie-in stops them falling asleep at the "proper" time of night and desynchronises their sleep rhythms. Adolescents should never get up later than 10am on Sundays to avoid that Monday time shift!

Sleep and screens: a damaging rivalry for teenagers

Adolescents enjoy staying up late, it's a way to be individual, to "rebel". Today, new technology gives them a wide range of evening or even night activities: films, sending texts, online games, chat rooms... Their parents usually have no idea. These habits are certainly time consuming (how time flies...) and delays going to sleep. But they are above all stimulating. Light sources will delay melatonin secretion (which needs a lowering of light or even darkness) and it will be suppressed by the blue light from screens. Waking hours are stimulated, sleep time is reduced... waking up is really hard.

A sleep deficit is harmful to health, not just now but in the future

The sleep deficit of adolescents will have implications:

  • Immediate:

    Day time - it is not uncommon to experience drowsiness, alongside of course fatigue and mood swings and the risk of road accidents. Cognitive performance is affected: attention span, learning, memory.

    Night time - the production of growth hormone is disrupted, toxic waste is not properly eliminated, blood sugar and the appetite are poorly regulated, due to hormonal activities linked to circadian cycles.

  • Future :
    The risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems is increased for teenagers who sleep less than seven hours a night. The risk of depression is also higher for teenagers who repeatedly go to bed after midnight.

Another consequence to take note of: specialists are unanimous in stating that "it is in infancy and adolescence that good habits are formed including sleep routines".
If the bad habits developed in adolescence continue, they are guaranteed to have repercussions for the adult of tomorrow…

What to do?

As parents, get to know about sleep and its importance, "set an example". It is obvious that parents who have insufficient or irregular sleep cannot easily demand that their children keep regular bedtimes and get enough sleep… this was demonstrated by a recent study which advised parents to "educate" themselves about sleep.

Explain the effect of sleep (for teenagers, it often seems like a waste of time!) on cognition, weight, growth, mood and more…
Remind them of the requirements for good quality sleep with the importance of the evening meal, silence, darkness, physical activity during the day…
Be diplomatic but also show trust by agreeing a contract for "deconnection" at a reasonable set time.