Sleep Disorders

Updated 04 July 2014

Social ties affect teen sleep patterns

A new study finds that having involved parents and feeling connected to school increase the likelihood that a teen will get sufficient sleep.

Having involved parents and feeling connected to school increase the likelihood that a teen will get sufficient sleep, a new study finds.

Previous research has suggested that developmental factors, specifically lower levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, may explain why children get less sleep as they become teenagers.

But this study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour found that social ties, including relationships with parents and friends, may have a more significant effect on changing sleep patterns in teens than biology.

"My study found that social ties were more important than biological development as predictors of teen sleep behaviours," David Maume, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati, said in a news release from the American Sociological Association.

Maume analyzed data collected from nearly 1000 young people when they were aged 12 to 15. During these years, the participants' average sleep duration fell from more than nine hours per school night to less than eight hours.

He found that parents' oversight of teens especially in establishing a bedtime had a strong effect on healthy sleep habits.

Keeping tabs on kids

"Research shows that parents who keep tabs on their kids are less likely to see them get into trouble or use drugs and alcohol," Maume said. "My findings suggest a similar dynamic with sleep. Parents who monitor their children's behaviour are more likely to have kids that get adequate rest. Given that children generally get less sleep as they become teenagers, parents should be ever more vigilant at this stage," he added.

Teens also had longer and better quality sleep when they felt they were a part of their school or had friends who cared about school and were positive, social people.

"Teens who have pro-social friends tend to behave in pro-social ways, which includes taking care of one's health by getting proper sleep," Maume said.

When teenagers have trouble sleeping, doctors often recommend prescription drugs to address the problem, he noted. "My research indicates that it's necessary to look beyond biology when seeking to understand and treat adolescents' sleep problems," Maume said.

 "Such an approach may lead to more counselling or greater parental involvement in teens' lives, both of which are less invasive than commonly prescribed medical solutions and, at least in the case of parental involvement, cheaper."

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more about teens and sleep.

 (Picture: Teen sleeping from Shutterstock)

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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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