A teen's relationship — or lack of good relationship — with parents, pals or teachers may have a lot to do with why most kids aren't getting the nine to 10 hours of sleep that doctors recommend. The hormonal disruptions of puberty likely also play a role.
That's the word from David Maume, a sociologist and sleep researcher at the University of Cincinnati. Maume recently analyzed federal health data from a survey of 974 teenagers who were questioned first when they were 12 years old, and then again at age 15. His findings appear in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Teens who had very warm relationships with their parents — who said they felt supported, for example, and could talk to their folks — tended to sleep better, Maume found. "Whereas, families going through distressful times — divorce or remarriage — that tended to disrupt teen sleep," he says.
Having problems or feeling unsafe at school also disturbed sleep, though students who said they had good relationships with teachers tended to sleep better.
Teens who reported having strong friendships with peers who shared similar academic goals, or who were involved in sports or other school activities also got a better night's sleep.
Kids, it turns out, aren't so different from adults in this way. "If we're happy and content," Maume says, "we're much more likely to sleep better than if we're distressed and anxious and worried."
Of course, teens are often more drawn to their computers and social networking than adults are. But Maume found that when parents were strict not only about bedtime, but also about limiting technology, the kids slept better.
"It's a finding that seems obvious," Maume says. "But perhaps we need reminding that parents really do matter when it comes to health habits of their teenagers."
The national data suggest that, on average, kids lose about an hour and a half of sleep a night between ages 12 and 15 — dropping from about nine hours per night to a little less than eight.
Nudging that number back up to the recommended nine or 10 nightly hours seems impossible to Stacy Simera, an Ohio mental health therapist who is also mother to 14-year-old Graig.
"As a mom, my role is to set the right environment for my son," Simera says. "He does not have caffeine. He does not have TV in the bedroom, [and] no cellphone or iPad in his room when he's supposed to be asleep."
Graig's good about all of that, Simera says. But even if he hits the sack at 9 p.m., she'll often hear him tossing and turning until after 11.
Dr. Shalini Paruthi, who heads the pediatric sleep and research center at St. Louis University, blames the shifting hormones of puberty for throwing a wrench into the internal clock of many teens.
"They're not as sleepy as early as they used to be," Paruthi says. "So, in grade school they were easily going to sleep and getting sleepy at 8:30, [but] now they're getting sleepy at 9:30 — and for some kids it goes much further."
As with many hormonal changes, some people are more affected than others. But whatever the cause, statistics suggest that kids who don't get the ideal nine or 10 hours total of shut-eye each night are at higher risk for things like poor academic performance, colds, flu, depression and — among teens old enough to drive — accidents on the road.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We heard recently on this program about how getting enough sleep is a problem for today's teenagers. A new study suggests that a teen's relationship with parents, friends and teachers may have a lot to do with why they don't get a good night's sleep.
NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on the research from the University of Cincinnati.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: David Maume is a sociologist and sleep researcher. He analyzed federal health data, which surveyed 974 teenagers when they were 12, and then again when they were 15. He found that family dynamics have a lot to do with how well kids sleep.
DAVID MAUME: Teens that had very warm relations with their parents, felt like they could talk to them, felt like their parents were supportive of them, they tended to sleep better. Whereas families that were going through distressing times - say, going through a divorce or a remarriage - that tended to disrupt teens' sleep.
NEIGHMOND: And so did problems at school.
MAUME: Feeling safe at school, having good relations with teachers, those things tended to promote better sleep.
NEIGHMOND: As did good relationships with friends. Kids whose friends shared similar academic goals, took part in sports or other positive social activities were also more likely to get a good night's sleep. You could say it adds up to something that makes lots of sense: a general feeling of well-being helps you sleep.
MAUME: If we're happy and contented, we're much more likely to sleep better than if we're distressed and anxious and worried.
NEIGHMOND: Now, of course, teens are incredibly drawn to their computers and social networking. And Maume found that when parents were strict not only about bedtime, but also about limiting technology, kids slept better.
MAUME: It's a finding that seems obvious, but perhaps we need reminding of it, that parents really do matter when it comes to health habits of their teenagers.
NEIGHMOND: The federal sleep data shows that between the ages of 12 and 15, kids lose, on average, about an hour and a half of sleep a night, getting less than eight hours.
Sleep experts recommend nine to 10 hours a night, a goal that Stacy Simera, mother of 14-year-old Graig, is trying very hard to meet.
STACY SIMERA: As a mom, my role is to try to set the right environment for my son. And so he does not have caffeine. He does not have a TV in his bedroom. There's no cell phone or iPad up in his room when he's supposed to be asleep.
NEIGHMOND: But despite all of this, it pretty much never happens.
SIMERA: We send him to bed at 9 o'clock. And he's obedient. He goes. But I hear him tossing and turning. I hear him get up and go to bathroom. I hear him get up and get a drink of water.
NEIGHMOND: Simera says Graig typically doesn't get to sleep till after 11. That's likely due to another huge factor at play here: puberty.
Dr. Shalini Paruthi heads the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at St. Louis University.
SHALINI PARUTHI: We can't lose sight of the fact that puberty changes are very important to adolescent sleep.
NEIGHMOND: During puberty, kids' internal body clock - this cues the body when it's tired - changes.
PARUTHI: So, instead of getting sleepy at 8:30 P.M., now they're getting sleepy at 9:30 P.M. But for some teenagers, it shifts much further. And those are the kids who sometimes are not sleepy till midnight, or until two or three in the morning, and then have to wake up early for school.
NEIGHMOND: Clearly, these kids aren't getting the ideal nine to 10 hours a night. And that puts them at risk for all the consequences of sleep deprivation, including poor academic performance, colds, flu, depression and, among kids old enough to drive, accidents on the road.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.