Sleep deprivation rife among teenagers

More than half of all teenagers may be sleep deprived, according to experts.

A combination of natural hormone changes and greater use of screen-based technology means many are not getting enough sleep. Research has suggested teenagers need nine hours’ sleep to function properly.

“Sleep is fundamentally important but despite this it’s been largely ignored as part of our biology,” said Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. “Within the context of teenagers, here we have a classic example where sleep could enhance enormously the quality of life and, indeed, the educational performance of our young people. Yet they’re given no instruction about the importance of sleep and sleep is a victim to the many other demands that are being made of them.”

At One Level Up, an internet cafe and gaming centre in Glasgow, I found a group of young people who are used to very late nights.

“There’s things called ‘grinds’ which we have on Saturdays which are an all-nighter until 10 in the morning,” said 17-year-old Jack Barclay. “We go home, sleep till 8pm at night and then do the exact same thing again. I like staying up.”

Fourteen-year-old Rachel admitted occasionally falling asleep in class because she stayed up late at night playing computer games. “If it’s a game that will save easily I’ll go to bed when my mum says, ‘OK you should probably get some rest’, but if it’s a game where you have to go to a certain point to save I’ll be like, ‘five more minutes!’ and then an hour later ‘five more minutes!’, and it does mess up your sleeping pattern. For me it takes me about an hour to get to sleep and I’m lying there staring into nothing thinking ‘I’m going to play THAT part of the game tomorrow and I’m going to play THAT part of the game the next day.”

So that pesky industry known as video games rears it’s ugly head again. The size of the industry is so huge now that it is almost like an addiction where children and even adults are hooked to the point where they don’t want to turn off their consoles.

There has been research that suggests that this ‘night-owl’ behaviour may be occurring because of hormonal changes that occur during puberty, but Prof Foster believes that electronic equipment and consoles accentuates these behaviours. He explained: “The data that’s emerging suggests that these computer screens and gaming devices may well have a big effect in increasing levels of alertness. That will make it harder to get to sleep after you’ve stopped playing. The great problem with teenagers is that you’re not only biologically programmed to go to bed late and get up late, but there’s also many attractions like gaming and Facebook and texting and many teenagers are doing this into the early hours of the morning and delaying sleep even further.”

All of this can be pointed to one particular question: should our children be allowed all this technology in their own bedrooms? It’s almost become a culture now where most children have access to their own mobile phone, particularly in the teenage years. Also increasing numbers of teenagers and young people have access to a television and video game consoles in their own rooms. All this means that parents are not able to control whether their children are getting enough sleep, as Rachel eluded to above.

I think in order to really tackle this issue, we need to start taking away the culture. Children don’t need a TV in their own room. They don’t really need a mobile phone until they’re out in the big wide world, which their not really at school. I’m not saying these children shouldn’t be exposed to these technologies, but the reality is parents do not have control, and evidence suggests that teenagers may not be as responsible over their time playing video games or texting people, meaning that teachers need to play a role in educating these youngsters in monitoring their time spent playing video games and plan routines to help tackle sleep deprivation.

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