Sleep experts have coined a new phrase to describe a worrying trend among teens – the term is “junk sleep”, and it specifically refers to the fact that young people are not only not getting enough sleep, but that they sleep they are getting is of poor quality because of the presence of a bevy of electronic devices.
According to a recent study by the Sleep Council, nearly one third of young people between the ages of 12 and 16 years old indicated that they are only getting between four and seven hours of sleep per night. This would be worrying in adults, but is of special concern for this age group, which health experts have indicated need almost nine hours of sleep per night in order to get the proper rest and opportunity for growth. The study included a poll of nearly 1,000 teens, and it revealed that in almost every case, their bedroom sleeping environment included computers, televisions, cell phones and musical devices.
According to Dr. Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, “This is an incredibly worrying trend.” Many have called for action to be taken to educate young people about the value of sleep to their health, as well as of the dangers of sleep deprivation. The statistics derived from the study certainly make it clear that the message has not been sent or received yet, as nearly 25 percent of those polled said that they fell asleep at least one night per week while in the midst of using an electronic device, such as watching television or listening to music. Sleep hygiene experts have indicated that this type of sleep is not of the same quality as that which is derived in a quiet room, dark room with no light or stimulating distraction. Almost every teen indicated that their bedroom held a phone, a music system, a television or all of these, with over half of boys also having a game console present.
Remarkably, when asked about their level of fatigue during the day, two in five indicated that they were tired, yet only one in ten said that they thought it important to get a good night’s sleep. Idzikowski says, “What we are seeing is the emergence of ‘junk sleep’ – that is sleep that is of neither the length nor quality that it should be in order to feed the brain with the rest it needs. Youngsters need to be taught a healthy lifestyle includes healthy sleep as well as healthy food. The message is simple: switch off the gadgets and get more sleep.”
Numerous studies have linked poor sleep to a wide range of health problems, including obesity and poor cognitive performance. Still, despite the clear science in support of sleep, Professor Jim Horne of the Loughborough Sleep Research Center says that getting the message out will be difficult. “I have two teenage kids, and the advice will just fall on deaf ears.”