Sleep deprivation can be life threatening to your teenager. Here’s how you can help them
Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but studies suggest most don’t, leading to health problems including an increased risk of suicidal ideation.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Three Farragut mothers shared their heartache after losing their teenagers to suicide. They helped us start a discussion about the harsh reality affecting young people in East Tennessee.
We decided to continue the conversation by digging a common thread between their three stories: sleep deprivation.
READ THEIR STORIES: The reality of suicide
Candace Bannister said her son, Will, does not sleep well at night and continues to take naps after school.
“We made an appointment and saw his pediatrician just five days before he committed suicide,” Bannister said. “His doctor said, ‘I just don’t think he’s getting enough sleep at night.'”
Kristina Thiagarajan said her son Kailash often stays up late to meet his high academic expectations.
“There was one night he didn’t even fall asleep and I put my foot down and said, ‘You can’t perform well if you don’t get enough sleep,’” said Thiagarajan.
Monica Gouffon said scrolling through social media for hours kept her daughter, Sasha McElveen, from sleeping at night.
“Once I could see that she hadn’t slept, I had to force her to give me this phone, take it, put it in my room and turn it off,” Gouffon said.
Statistics from the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and the Knox County Youth Risk Behavior Survey show this to be a common problem.
In fact, only 23% of Knox County high school students reported getting 8 hours of sleep or more in 2017.
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We specifically wanted to know why sleep is so important to adolescent brains and why not enough sleep is so harmful.
We turned to experts at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for answers.
According to Dr Ehab Mansoor, chief medical director of the Children’s Sleep Medicine Center, a lot happens when teens sleep: Long-term memories are stored, new skills are classified, and the brain is able to develop.
“Our brains keep growing until the age of 25, and a teenager can look as big as an adult, but their brain keeps growing, keeps developing and their personality keeps developing,” said Mansoor.
At the same time, teenage hormones and normal development reset their internal clocks for later bedtime, which doesn’t work well with school start times and extracurricular activities.
“What ends up happening is 5 days a week, they miss 2-3 hours of the sleep they should get, then try to make up for it all on weekends or during breaks,” said Dr Allison Elledge, pediatric psychologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
While this changing sleep pattern is natural, studies show that a majority of American teens don’t close their eyes enough.
According to the Archives of Suicide Research, 72% of American teens usually sleep less than the recommended 8-10 hours each night.
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This sleep deprivation has a long list of negative effects: inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, loneliness, poor long-term memory, strained relationships, stress, poor judgment, obesity, high blood pressure, and weakened immunity.
On top of that, sleep deprivation is also linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
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The same Archives of Suicide Research study showed that the risk of suicidal thoughts was increased by 20 to 40% for adolescents who slept 1 or 2 hours less than recommended (about 6 to 7 hours).
The risk has increased to 75-80% for adolescents who sleep 5 hours or less per night.
At the same time, the study found that the risks were reduced by up to 80% if the teenager slept regularly for the recommended 8-10 hours.
“So we know these two things are related. Does one influence the other? We’re not totally sure, but we know they’re important and we should be thinking about sleep,” Elledge said. .
One of the biggest sleep disruptors is screen time.
“That’s when it all happens, at least that’s what I hear from my teenage years, ‘Well, I can’t put it away. There are 500 texts that I would miss from day to day. next day and I would be irrelevant, ”Elledge said.
Mansoor and Elledge suggest these 7 tips for improving teen sleep:
Above all else, Elledge said that it is important to work with your teenager and help him understand the changes.
“I think we all do better when we understand the why of what we’re being told to do,” Elledge said. “We’re not just trying to ruin your life. We’re trying to make sure you grow up the way you should.”
Importantly, Elledge said not all sleep deprived children have thoughts of suicide; it only increases the risk. Both doctors encourage you to see your teenager regularly to make sure he is getting enough sleep.
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