Insufficient or poor-quality sleep produces more than grogginess. Inadequate sleep may be a significant factor in childhood obesity, poor decision-making, and lower performance at school.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The importance of sleep for children and teenagers is well-documented, but many young people fail to get the rest they need because of the pace and schedule of modern life. Inadequate sleep in school-age children could be one factor contributing to the growing rate of pediatric obesity. For teenagers, a naturally occurring biological shift at adolescence is at odds with the early start times at many high schools. This lack of sleep for teens affects their physical and emotional health as well as impacts their school performance.

Two Brown University researchers specialize in the effects that lack of sleep has on children and are available to comment on the growing problem and offer recommendations.

Mary Carskadon:
Mary Carskadon
Mary Carskadon, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Director of Chronobiology/Sleep Research at Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital

At adolescence, teenagers experience a shift in their biological clocks that causes an approximate two-hour delay in the time that they are ready to sleep. Many times, this change coincides with an earlier start time for high school. Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, has studied these biological shifts and the lifestyles that may result in inadequate amounts of sleep for many teenagers. Several school districts have acted on Carskadon’s research by delaying the start of the high school day.

In addition to recommending later starting times for high school, Carskadon believes that reducing computer and TV use before bedtime will help teenagers get more sleep. A well-rested teenager can avoid sleep deprivation effects, such as lower grades, a higher risk of car accidents, and mood changes, such as increase in depression.

Judith Owens:
Judith Owens
Judith Owens, M.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Director, Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic, Hasbro Children’s Hospital

Children between the ages of six and 12 need approximately 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night. When they have a sleepless night, children respond with changes to insulin and glucose levels as well as the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. The next day, they are likely to be hungrier and choose higher calorie and more carbohydrate-dense food. A consistent lack of sleep and the resulting eating habits can be a factor in childhood obesity. In addition, for some children, sleep apnea makes a good night’s sleep impossible. Without consistent sleep, these children can be distracted and have compromised executive functions, such as time management and the ability to make decisions. If parents and teachers are not aware of the effects that sleeplessness can have, this behavior could be interpreted as ADHD.