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U of M sleep expert discusses the importance of a good night sleep for teens

Lack of sleep among teenagers is a rapidly developing issue and has researchers concerned about the harmful effects linked to it. Michael Howell, M.D., a sleep expert within the Neurology Department, appeared on Fox 9 to discuss the matter further.

“In general, teenagers should be getting at least two more hours of sleep than an adult,” Howell said. “The consequences of poor sleep are immense. Not only will teens actually be sleepy during the day, but they’re prone to risky behavior and their academic performance goes down.”

These findings were some of the main reasons that sleep experts from across the country convened in the Twin Cities for a first ever national sleep conference devoted to teens, appropriately named Teens & Sleep.

There, researchers presented on the relationship between sleep and brain functions including how lack of sleep can lead to increased chances of developing mental health issues. As a result, some alarming facts became known.

Teens with fewer than six hours of sleep per night are:

  • Two-three times more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Driving with reaction times equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .05.
  • Significantly more likely to use drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and engage in other at-risk behavior.

These facts alone have pushed Howell and colleagues to educate policy makers, school administrators, teens and their parents about the benefits of a full night’s sleep.

For now, Howell urges teens to cut down on the late-night screen time to help develop a healthy sleep cycle. He also says it’s important to point out that sleepiness is not laziness.

“A teenager needs sleep just like they need food and water. If they are falling asleep in class they likely could have a sleep problem and not a motivational or personality problem.”

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