Study finds sleep deprivation epidemic among teens

Caffeine, late nights and lack of sleep are just a few ways to describe the life of a typical teenager. Fortunately, a recent teen sleep study conducted at the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic at UC Berkeley aims to help address this problem. Allison Harvey, a psychology professor and the main investigator of the study recognizes the growth in the number of sleep-deprived adolescents and the need to do something about it.

This study has been going on for four years. Participants in the study must be between the ages of 10 and 18 and experience at least one problem relating to emotional health, social aptitude, behavioral irregularity or academic achievement. They also must report having problems sleeping at night. If all criteria are met, they are then invited to a sleepover at the UC Berkeley sleep lab for observation.

Researchers of the study used many methods for improving sleep among the teenage participants. For instance, common methods included motivation interventions and chronothereapy — a type of therapy that involves controlling sleep cycle times as well as the amount of light present — in order to adjust the participants’ circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates our biological functions every 24 hours.

The aim of the study was to try to shift the bedtimes of the teenagers. To do so, researchers manipulated melatonin — a hormone which aids in sleep and wake cycles. Once the participants arrived at the campus for the sleepover, they were expected to complete a six-week intervention. The intervention included sessions with a sleeping coach, interviews, saliva samples as well as monitoring activity levels through a special watch known as the Actiwatch.

The study wouldn’t have been possible without the undergraduate student research assistants, whose help includes everything from helping with recording, monitoring Actiwatch, being a morning or night buddy for the participants and having an active role in the biomeasures and outreach group.

Grace Wang, an undergraduate student majoring in psychology, molecular biology and nutritional science, has been an active member of the research assistant team for the study.

“More and more people realize how important sleep is and how important it is to set a regular sleep cycle. Perhaps it would be harder for the teenaged generation to understand, acknowledge and actually implement this into their schedules as they have a lot of things on their plates: clubs, activities, homework, etc.,” Wang said, who is no stranger to unhealthy sleeping cycles herself, in an email interview.

However, sleep-deprived teenagers are not only exclusive to the UC Berkeley campus. Ariel Sim, a third-year UC Davis statistics major and economics minor, has the tendency to calculate the number of hours of sleep she will be getting, though sadly it’s not nearly enough. Just like many students found over all sorts of campuses, Ariel is involved in not only her academics, but other activities as well.

“I am a student leader at a Christian fellowship on campus. I also have to work as much as I can without sacrificing schoolwork to cover rent, tuition, bills, insurance, groceries and any other living expenses. While I have a lot of responsibilities that take up my time, I also suffer from mild insomnia. Perhaps, that’s why I don’t get an ‘ideal’ amount of sleep or ever feel fully rested,” Sim said in an email interview.

Dr. Irwin Feinberg and Dr. Ian Campbell, both from the UC Davis Sleep Research Lab and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences are also interested in studying sleep deprivation among teenagers. Both are involved in a sleep need study in adolescents and how the need changes from the ages of 10 to 18 years old.

“There is a decreased need of sleep across adolescence from 12 to 16.5 years, and right now the recommended hours of sleep for teenagers is nine to 10 hours a night,” Dr. Campbell said.

Feinberg and Campbell’s findings lead the researchers to believe that adolescents need less recuperation during the night if they achieve it through naps during the day. Because these findings are not yet conclusive, they are working on teasing out the details.

So if you have brothers or siblings at that age or care for kids yourself, and if they are falling asleep during the day, then most likely they are sleep-deprived. According to both Dr. Feinberg and Dr. Campbell, it is equally important that teenagers develop a regular sleeping schedule regardless of the weekday or weekend.

As a rule of thumb, it is important to try to ensure that teenagers are well-rested in order to have a healthy lifestyle, but in the process of ensuring their sleep, don’t forget to catch some shut eye yourself.

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