Less Than Half of American Children Get Enough Sleep Each Night. How Do We Fix It?

Nine hours seems to be the magic number for students. But how do we help them get there?

How much sleep is enough for children?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nine hours a night is the magic number.

New research presented at the AAP's National Conference found that only 48% of school age children in America get at least nine hours of sleep most weeknights, and that those who do exhibit greater signs of "childhood flourishing."

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How much sleep is enough for children?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nine hours a night is the magic number.

New research presented at the AAP's National Conference found that only 48% of school age children in America get at least nine hours of sleep most weeknights, and that those who do exhibit greater signs of "childhood flourishing."

From an AAP press release:

The researchers found that sufficient sleep, reported in 47.6% of the 6- to 17-year-old children, was positively associated with several individual flourishing markers, as well as the combined childhood flourishing measure. Compared with children who did not get nine hours of sleep most weeknights, those who did had 44% increased odds of showing interest and curiosity in learning new things, 33% increased odds of doing all required homework; 28% increased odds of caring about doing well in school; 14% increased odds of working to finish tasks started, and 12% increased odds of demonstrating the combined flourishing measure.

The analysis also adjusted for many factors which can impact sleep, including age, poverty level, screen time, mental health conditions and adverse childhood experiences. 

Sleep has a startling impact on just about every facet of life, yet many children and teens don't get enough of it. 

"Not meeting your sleep requirement has serious deleterious consequences. It significantly increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer—you name it," renowned sleep expert Dr. James Maas told STACK.

"Sleep deprivation lowers your immunity and puts your health at risk. Emotionally, sleep deprivation increases your risk of clinical depression and makes you more irritable and anxious. Your motor coordination and reaction time suffer. Cognitively, there's a huge detriment. Concentration, critical thinking, creative thinking—it all suffers when you don't meet your sleep requirement. Sleep quality and quantity is also the best prediction of how long we're going to live. In short, sleep deprivation makes you clumsy, ignorant and shortens your life."

There's no shortage of research backing up the importance of sleep—nor the fact that many American kids struggle to get enough of it.

But how do we fix that?

Getting nine hours of sleep might not sound so hard to parents, but it can be exceedingly difficult for students—in particular, teens. The adolescent body is often on a totally different biological clock than their parents.

"Biological sleep patterns shift towards later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence—meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11 p.m.," the National Sleep Foundation writes.

According to a 2012 Wall Street Journal article, this shift to a later natural sleep time for adolescents continues until it peaks at age 19.5 in girls and 20.9 in boys. Only then do their biological clocks begin to rebound back toward the earlier bed times which come natural for older adults.

Perhaps one of the most logical moves for getting kids more sleep is pushing back school start times.

In 2016, many high schools in the Seattle, Washington area shifted their start time from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Researchers from the University of Washington found the change had a startling impact on students: on average, they slept an extra 34 minutes each night, their grades increased by 4.5 percent, and overall tardiness and absences declined.

California recently became the first state to mandate later start times at most public schools.

A newly signed education bill requires school districts to adopt start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for high schools and no earlier than 8 a.m. for middle schools by the 2022-2023 school year.

In many districts, that's going to mean school starts a full hour later than it does now.

CalMatters tallied over 400 high schools in California's largest school districts and found that just 21 currently had start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. Most have a first-period bell that rings at 7:30 or 8 a.m.

When it comes to getting to bed earlier and raising the quality of your sleep, don't doubt the power of a proper bedtime snack.

Simply following a handful of our 18 rules for better sleep consistently can be enough to make a big difference in your shuteye.

Photo Credit: PeopleImages/iStock

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Topics: SLEEP | YOUTH SPORTS | MIDDLE SCHOOL | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL | ACADEMICS