Sufficient sleep is critical for adolescent health, yet the number of hours slept per night has decreased among teenagers in the United States over the last 20 years. A study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that female students, racial/ethnic minorities, and students of lower socioeconomic status are particularly affected, with teens in these categories less likely to report regularly getting 7 or more hours of sleep each night compared with their male counterparts, non-Hispanic white teenagers, and students of higher socioeconomic status, respectively. Findings from “The Great Sleep Recession: Changes in Sleep Duration Among U.S. Adolescents, 1991-2012” are published online in Pediatrics.
Students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades of a nationally representative survey of more than 270,000 adolescents from 1991 to 2012 reported how often they get 7 or more hours of sleep.
The proportion of adolescents who regularly got 7 hours of sleep was defined as a frequency of every day or almost every day versus sometimes, rarely, or never. The survey did not control for weekday versus weekend wake-up and sleep times.
Racial/ethnic minorities and those whose parents had little formal education said they were less likely to regularly get 7 or more hours of sleep, yet they were more likely to report getting adequate sleep, suggesting a mismatch between actual sleep and perceptions of adequate sleep.
“This finding implies that minority and low socioeconomic status adolescents are less accurately judging the adequacy of the sleep they are getting,” says Katherine W. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author, in a release.
The largest decrease in the percentage getting 7 hours of sleep per night was 15-year-olds, a particularly concerning trend for a significant portion of US students at this important juncture in development. Among this age group, 72% reported regularly getting 7-plus hours of sleep per night in 1991; by 2012, in the same age group, 63% of adolescents reported regularly receiving 7 or more hours of sleep per night. The largest declines for all adolescents occurred between 1991 and 1995 and 1996 and 2000. The disparity according to race has increased in more recent time periods.
Seven hours per night is 2 hours less than the 9 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Inadequate sleep is associated with a wide range of health problems including mental health issues, academic problems, substance abuse, and weight gain.
“Although the underlying reasons for the decreases in hours of sleep are unknown, there has been speculation that increased Internet and social media use and pressures due to the heightened competitiveness of the college admissions process are adding to the problem,” Keyes says. “Declines in self-reported adolescent sleep across the last 20 years are concerning and suggest that there is potentially a significant public health concern that warrants health education and literacy approaches.”