It’s no secret that the mental health of America’s youth is on the decline. The mental health of younger generations has gotten so bad that experts now refer to it as “a crisis,” with major depression rates among the youth more than doubling in the past decade. While several factors can affect one’s psychological wellbeing, researchers suggest that a lack of sleep, and poor sleep quality, seriously affects child development and mental health.
Anxiety, Depression & Other Negative Consequences
According to a Stanford Medicine report, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the issue of tired teens a “public health epidemic,” and one that, if not curbed, can have devastating economic consequences. Sleep deprivation, according to the report, poses a serious threat to the health, safety, and academic success of young people. Additional negative side effects of not sleeping include, but are not limited to: poor grades, the inability to concentrate, and increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
“Good sleep in children is a vital part of a child’s well-being and can cause more than just daytime sleepiness,” Dr. Sonal Malhotra, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics-Pulmonary at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Parentology. “Poor sleep can lead to cognitive and behavioral consequences later in life such as inattentiveness, over-activity, emotional instability, and poor academic performance. Inconsistent sleep schedules and too little sleep are known to cause worse grades, irritability, depression, and an increase in risk-taking activities.”
According to Malhotra, inconsistent and/or insufficient sleep doesn’t just harm a child’s emotional wellbeing. “[Kids not sleeping] results in many health consequences, including increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure,” she explains. “It can also blunt the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infections.”
Social Media & Interrupted Sleep
According to the Stanford journal, social and cultural factors, along with the increased prevalence of technology, have all collided with teen biology to prevent adolescents from getting adequate rest.
Teens have a biological predisposition to go to sleep as much as two hours later than younger children. Add this natural propensity to night-time social media use, a habit children as young as 11 are guilty of, along with standard school starting hours of between 7:00 and 8:00 am, and teens are at high risk of sleep deprivation.
“Moreover,” Malhotra explains, “heavy social media use is related to depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which can disrupt sleep. Other technologic activities such as watching TV, playing video games, and using smartphones prior to bedtime causes delayed sleep times and poor sleep quality as well.”
Tips for a Healthy Sleep Schedule
You can’t force your kids to fall asleep before they’re ready, but you can encourage healthy sleep habits.
“Set limits and maintain a consistent, enforced, and regular sleep routine,” Malhotra advises. “Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to soft music, and dimming the lights. Make sure to keep a regular sleep-wake schedule daily, including weekends, [to ensure your child] consistently gets enough hours of sleep. And, most importantly, eliminate all electronics 60 minutes prior to target bedtime.”
As for the question of how much sleep do kids need, that depends on age. Infants and toddlers need as much as 16 hours of sleep every 24-hour period. Three- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, while 6- to 12-year-olds need nine to 12 hours of sleep. Teens between 13 and 18 years of age require eight to 10 hours of quality sleep.
Lack of Sleep Affects Child Development — Sources
Dr. Sonal Malhotra, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics-Pulmonary at Baylor College of Medicine
Stanford Medicine News Center