Aussie teens prefer screens to sleep

| April 27, 2018
A new research report from health promotion foundation VicHealth and the Sleep Health Foundation has found Australian teenagers are missing out on crucial sleep, with screen time, caffeine and stress keeping them awake.
The research found that the average teenager only got between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep a night, well under the recommended 8 – 10 hours, and it was seriously impacting their mental wellbeing, with increased rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem among sleep-deprived teens.
But the study also found a simple way for teens to reclaim some much needed shut-eye. Teens who put down their smart-phones an hour before bed gained an extra 21 minutes sleep a night and an hour and 45 minutes over the school week.
The Sleep and Mental Wellbeing study also found that two-thirds of teenagers (66%) reported at least one symptom of a sleep disorder, such as insomnia.  Sleep problems during childhood and adolescence are predictive of depression later in life.  Teenagers slept up to 90 minutes more on weekends due to being able to wake up later.
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said not getting enough sleep was a serious health issue for many Australian teenagers and young people.
“Not getting enough sleep can really mess with all of us but young people in particular are at risk of a range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and mood issues.  Our report also found that sleep problems during childhood and as a teenager can lead to depression later in life. Sadly poor sleep is also associated with suicidal thoughts in teenagers so it’s really critical we support young people to get the sleep they need.
“We know that the increasing time teens spend on screen-based devices is making it really tough for many to get to sleep. There’s no denying that devices are a part of our life but our research found a simple step like putting away your phone an hour before bed can lead to more sleep and a better quality sleep.”
Sleep Health Foundation Chair Professor Dorothy Bruck agreed there are simple steps teenagers and their families could take to enjoy better sleep.
“The stereotype of a lazy teenager who sleeps all day is actually an anomaly – teens need more sleep than older people yet we know most of them aren’t getting enough,” Professor Bruck said.
“Using technology before bed, caffeine and stress all contribute to later bed times and sleep problems in teenagers and young people.“
One recent South Australian study asked adolescents to stop using their phone one hour before bedtime on school nights, after a week of baseline or ‘usual’ sleep habits. During the intervention, the subjects maintained the same bedtime, but turned their lights out 17 minutes earlier, and obtained an average of 21 extra minutes of sleep per night – gaining 1 hour and 45 minutes of sleep over the school week.
The report underlines the importance of parental attention.  School-based sleep programs can help teach adolescents about sleep and support behavioural interventions such as improved sleep hygiene or relaxation techniques. However, while they promote short-term benefits, research does not currently indicate that they facilitate long-term changes, and further development is required before they are able to consistently alter sleep and mental health in young people.
A good family environment has been linked with improved sleep quality, earlier bedtime, falling asleep more quickly and longer sleep duration. Conversely, greater conflict in late childhood is related to sleep problems in early adolescence.

A Melbourne study involving high school students found that ‘family time’ during the school week was associated with bedtimes that were 15 minutes earlier, and 15 minutes more sleep at night. Parent-set bedtimes may also benefit sleep time and daytime tiredness. This reflects evidence for good ‘sleep hygiene’ such as having a regular bedtime, relaxing before bed, avoiding evening stimulants such as caffeine and having a comfortable sleep environment.

Beyond the family environment, peers represent an important component of adolescents’ lives. Loneliness and difficulties interacting with peers are associated with increased sleep problems and, conversely, positive peer interactions may benefit sleep.

In summary, physical activity during the day, family time in the evening, a regular bedtime at night and wake time in the morning can all create regular sleep patterns.  Reading a book or magazine before sleeping rather than social media and relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can all help.
There is a clear link between sleep and mental health and better sleep is associated with mental wellbeing across the lifespan. While Adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, as they often don’t achieve minimum sleep recommendations during the school week. adolescence is a key life stage transition where healthy behaviours, including those relating to sleep, can be established.
The Sleep and Mental Wellbeing report is now available and more information about sleep health is also available.

One Comment

  1. The Indian Sun

    April 27, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    Yes it is really true. Sleep is the important factor for maintaining good health and in teenage it is very important to sleep properly, eat properly and also exercise properly.