-- too little? too much? -- seems to be a perennial concern for
parents, teachers, and others who care about children's well-being. In
fact, sleep plays a complicated (and incompletely understood) role in
development. However, the benefits of adequate sleep are evident in both
physical and mental health. Many communities have debated the merits of moving to later school start-times to better accommodate the typical sleep patterns of adolescents in particular. The recent release of new data from an ongoing federally-sponsored survey prompts us to take a closer look at what we know about this topic.
the specific role sleep plays in human biology is incompletely
understood, inadequate sleep (as indicated by daytime sleepiness) has
negative effects on multiple areas of performance and well-being. Both
the duration of sleep and its quality are associated with children's
health and behavior, including their school achievement, risk for injury, emotional well-being, and overall health. There is good evidence that sleepiness, regardless of its origins, puts children and youth at risk
for unintentional injuries and, for adolescents who are drivers,
increases likelihood of motor vehicle crashes. Young people ages 16 to
29 are the group most likely to be in crashes where the cause was the driver falling asleep.
The relationship between short sleep duration and overweight is controversial.
who are overweight tend to sleep less, and vice versa. Multiple
studies, both cross-sectional and longitudinal, report a significant
association, especially for boys, and for children younger than five.
However, there are many confounding factors that cannot be easily ruled
out, and the relationship between overweight and insufficient sleep
might go both ways. Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence for a number of researchers to recommend that we look seriously at improving sleep as a strategy for preventing obesity.
Use of electronic media, particularly in the bedroom, can lead to poor-quality sleep.
Children's use of cell phones, tablets, computers, and TV close to bedtime, and especially having such media in their bedroom, is associated with poor-quality sleep.
There may be multiple factors underlying this relationship: the
stimulating nature of some media, the displacement by electronic media
of time for physical activity, and others.
Adolescents may benefit from later school start-times.