Lack of sleep impairs teen social life

Mar 28, 2011, 6:13 PM | Updated: Mar 30, 2011, 12:00 pm

Generations of parents have told their kids to “go to bed,” often with lectures about how a lack of sleep will reduce their brain development, attention span in school and reaction time if they’re into sports.

If that doesn’t get a student’s attention, this might – a lack of sleep also impairs a teen’s social life.

“Being able to read the emotions in another person’s face is a very important skill, right? Is the person you’re talking to happy? Are they angry? What’s going on with them? That skill is impaired when a person is sleep deprived,” says Catherine Darley, a naturopathic physician in Seattle who recently spoke to a local PTA group about sleep issues. Along with her training, she’s studied the issue as a technologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center Sleep Disorders Center.

A person’s social well-being is also influenced by the way people see you. People who look sleepy and are yawning are not viewed as “interesting” or “popular” she says. A study to back that up compared photographs of people who were alert and rested with those who were sleep deprived. Individuals in the “sleepy” photos were rated as being less healthy and less attractive.

TeenSleep1Darley says a lack of sleep also impacts teens’ moral judgments.

“When people are sleep deprived, their choices are more self-centered, frankly,” she says.

Sleep loss amplifies the negative emotions in a teen’s life and reduces the positive emotions. Basically, they’re dull without sufficient sleep.

Scientific research on the social impacts from a sleep deficit is relatively new, with the first studies coming out about six months ago.

Teenagers whose parents have them go to bed at midnight or later were 24 percent more likely to be depressed, than children whose bedtime was set at 10 p.m. or earlier. Children with the midnight or later bedtime had 20 percent more suicidal thoughts than those who went to bed earlier.

So, how much sleep does your child need? Toddlers need about 13 hours of sleep. Preschoolers can get by on 12 hours. Children between the ages of six and 12 should get between 10 and 11 hours each night. Teens need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep at night. Adults should be asleep for 8 or 9 hours each night.

Sleep needs vary from one child to the next. One way to know how much sleep your child naturally needs is to observe their sleep habits on weekends or during a vacation.

“How much sleep are they getting at the end of a five- to eight-day vacation? That’s probably how much sleep they need to get every night,” says Darley.

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Lack of sleep impairs teen social life