Medical researchers point to developmental factors, specifically the decline of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, as an explanation for why children get less sleep as they become teenagers. But a new study suggests that social ties, including relationships with peers and parents, may be even more responsible for changing sleep patterns among adolescents.
"My study found that social ties were more important than biological development as predictors of teen sleep behaviors," said David J. Maume, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati, and author of the study, "Social Ties and Adolescent Sleep Disruption," which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Drawing on a sample from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a longitudinal study of children's physical, cognitive, and social development, Maume analyzed the changes in school night sleep patterns of nearly 1,000 adolescents from when they were 12 to 15-years-old. He found that during this period, the average sleep duration dropped from more than nine hours per school night to less than eight.
"When adolescents have trouble sleeping, doctors often recommend prescription drugs to address the problem," Maume said. "My research indicates that it's necessary to look beyond biology when seeking to understand and treat adolescents' sleep problems. Such an approach may lead to more counseling 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."
Maume found that parental monitoring of adolescent behavior - especially in setting a bedtime - strongly determined healthy sleep habits. "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 behavior 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."
Adolescents also had healthier sleep - longer duration and higher quality - when they felt they were a part of the schools they attended or had friends who cared about academics 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.