Although grown-ups may struggle with health woes caused by a lack of a good night’s sleep, a long and sound slumber, without early rising, may be even more crucial for middle- and high-schoolers. Their restful sleep may have economic benefits for us all, as well as surprising effects on attention disorders, which are one of the rising banes for the young.
New study by the nonpartisan and nonprofit RAND Corporation not only supports the health benefits from teens getting more sleep by starting school at around 8:30 in the morning— later than many schools now—researchers say such a move could be a, “cost-effective … strategy which could have a significant impact on public health and the U.S. economy.” As they reported:
[The] benefits of later start times far out-weigh the immediate costs. Even after just two years, [RAND research] projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m. After a decade, the study showed that delaying schools start times would contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy, with this increasing to $140 billion after 15 years. During the 15-year period examined by the study, the average annual gain to the U.S. economy would about $9.3 billion each year.
The researchers say they approached their economic modeling conservatively but sought to account for how a later school start time might result in measurable harms, including students’ car crash mortality and impaired academic performance. They said their figures likely are low because it would be harder to estimate “potential impacts of insufficient sleep, such as the effects on mental health, including depression and suicide, or other potential negative effects related to obesity or other morbidities.”
The study cites the growing body of evidence on how detrimental insufficient sleep and early rising can be on the mental, intellectual, and physical development of young people. Lack of sleep can worsen their judgement, driving, and mental and physical health, leading to them taking higher risk with sex and substances, as well as possibly affecting any tendency toward anger, violence, depression, even suicide.
The Washington Post reports that researchers increasingly are investigating whether poor and insufficient sleep may be tied to and worsening teen-agers’ challenges with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It afflicts 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million youngsters), and the percent of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011-12, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.
Many diagnosed ADHD youngsters also suffer from slumber woes, including insufficient sleep, insomnia and disordered breathing. As many as 40 percent of youngsters may have at least one of these issues.
That may be a direct or aggravating cause of kids’ inability to focus, pay attention, and to thrive, especially in academics and other pursuits requiring concerted engagement, many experts say. Others caution that more study is needed to say definitively that ADHD may be a sleep disorder.
Experts underscore that modern life isn’t helping kids get their needed sleep. The ubiquity of electronic devices—including cell phones, tablets, and games—mean not only that youngsters (and adults) may be overstimulated at the exact time when they should be downshifting into sleep, they also are getting blasted with sources of blue light that has been shown to be bad for deep sleep. Researchers also have been startled to learn how many parents let their kids play video games or watch entertainments, such as are available on Netflix, keeping even elementary school students up until midnight, rising then too few sleep hours later to get to school by 7 or 8 in the morning.
ADHD medications themselves also may be at issue. Millions of kids, as many as 6 percent of youngsters aged 4-17, were prescribed stimulants, notably Ritalin, in 2011, (the most recent year for which CDC data is available) and behavior therapies to deal with their ADHD. But experts say that a re-formulation of common drugs to treat the syndrome—making the meds timed release, longer lasting, and more convenient—also means that young people may be under their meds’ influence until late, making it harder for them to sleep until midnight or later.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services but also the havoc that can be inflicted on them by dangerous drugs. Our firm also has extensive experience with injuries to babies and children, as well as in handling car, truck, and motorcycle wrecks. Cases involving the young can be painful and heart-wrenching, and we need to do all we can to lessen the toll that poor and insufficient sleep takes on our children.
If we can reduce the incidence of and need for medication for attention disorders, we should take appropriate steps, including ensuring our youngsters get the sleep they need. Resetting society’s clocks so teens can start their school day later isn’t easy, and it can affect everything from parents work hours to young athletes and creatives’ practice time. It’s happening or is under consideration across the country, especially in California where a bill calling for these has just failed in the state Legislature. We do lots of crazy things for our kids because we’re crazy about them. Getting them healthful sleep isn’t nutty—it’s smart.