I used to believe we should leave medicine to the doctors and faith to the Church. I didn’t really understand that my pediatrician would become a personal mentor for me as I navigated parenthood. I didn’t really consider that my pediatrician would become a private confidant of my children, discussing sensitive issues behind closed doors.
If you can’t get your teen to go to bed, you’re not alone. American teens sleep less now than they did twenty years ago, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. This very large study looked at more than 250,000 teens between 1991-2012, and the results are eye-opening. As our children move through adolescence they sleep less and less. In the past twenty years there has been an overall decline in adolescent sleep. More than half of teen ages 15 and older sleep less than seven hours per night, and about 85% of teens get less than the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Age 14-15 seems to be a big turning point for sleep deprivation, a year when teens experience the greatest drop in hours of sleep per night.
Every day for most people, something mysterious begins to take shape that still defies scientists in these times. Although the primary reasons for most basic bodily functions, such as eating and moving, have been known for centuries, sleep, or also known as slumbering or snoozing or napping or crashing, still remains an enigma in many ways. Yet, there is no single activity that we do more in our life.
Despite the importance of sleep, including for our kids, evidence suggests that many of our youth do not get the recommended sleep each night. A recent article through NBC News indicates that 90% of high schoolers fall short of the optimum amount of sleep. When this occurs, significant risks emerged in many domains. One study indicated that teens who sleep the least are 21% more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Even when parents utilize good routine and emphasize healthy living, sleep difficulties can arise. Issues occur for many reasons. Some are related to developmental milestones, such as increased mobility or verbal abilities in young kids. Other challenges emerge during changes in the home environment, such as a move or a parent starting a new job. And then, as with all families, sometimes unexpected illnesses emerge or other personal issues that may result in a shift in nightly patterns.
American teens are stressed and depressed. As a pediatrician, I see the suicide attempts, the overdoses, and all the new methods that teens are finding to intentionally hurt themselves—to somehow dull the pain. It’s getting worse. According to recent results from the Stress in America Study, teens are now more stressed out than adults:
40% feel irritable or angry
36% feel nervous or anxious
31% felt overwhelmed due to stress in the past month
36% feel fatigued or tired, and
Almost 30% feel depressed or sad
We have all said it. Or at least thought it at one time. Maybe it was in response to a brand new pair of thick-rimmed glasses that suddenly adorned a face of someone we loved. Maybe it was a statement of comfort to a person who was fifty pounds overweight, or whose face was covered in pimples. Or maybe, it was just intended to make someone who the world judges as unattractive feel better about themselves. Regardless, the statement or ones like it, usually come from a good place, with admirable intentions. Especially as parents, we find ourselves desiring that we live in a world where people aren’t judged, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by the color of their skin or the attractiveness of their body, but by the content of their character. The problem is, we are unknowingly sending the wrong message when only the “inside counts”, and ignoring just where we are.
The CatholicPediatrics.com web site is intended as a reference and information source only. If you suspect you have a health problem, you should seek immediate care with the appropriate health care professionals. The information in this web site is not a substitute for professional care, and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. The following entities assume no liability for the information contained in this web site or for its use: Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, CatholicPediatrics.com, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis Children's Hospital, and BJC Healthcare. The opinions and views expressed on and through CatholicPediatrics.com are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of CatholicPediatrics.com, Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, or any other entity.