I doubt if it's ever been easy to navigate one's teen years. As an extremely shy kid, it certainly wasn't easy for me. Yet when you throw in the magnifying influence of technology, it's easy to see that today's teens are facing issues of growing up in a way never experienced before. The challenges faced by peer pressure are not new, but add the impact of electronic media and the issue becomes so much larger than life. Is it any wonder that, according to one report, 11 percent of adolescents today have depressive disorder by age 18? Another 30 percent of today's teens have been involved in bullying either as a victim or as the tormenter, according to research conducted by Family First Aid. According to the 2011 National Survey of Children's Health, 31.3 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese.
Of the 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases each year, more than half were transmitted among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings. Although the high school dropout rate is decreasing, 1.2 million students still drop out of high school each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
For young people that stick it out, many routinely stay up past midnight on school nights, a lot of them transfixed by new media, only to be faced with getting up at the crack of dawn in order to make it to school before the 8:00 a.m. bell. Now, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that there are consequences of resulting tiredness we see in young people as a result of this cycle.
It's also now becoming clear that this sleep-deprived way of life of today's teenagers is not only dangerous, it could be deadly. The new CDC report reveals an association between lack of sleep and a greater tendency toward riskier behaviors by teens. The study found that when teens get less than seven hours of sleep on school nights, they are more likely to engage in a wide range of risky behaviors. Those behaviors included texting and driving, drinking and driving, riding with a driver who was drinking, and not wearing a seat belt in a car, or a helmet while on a bicycle; such risky behaviors were less likely to be found in teens that sleep nine hours a night, according to the report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report is not the first one to connect lack of sleep to problems associated with young people. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a formal recommendation that school start times be delayed so teens can sleep in, due in part to the evidence that insufficient sleep contributes to behavior and academic troubles and higher obesity risk. In their policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. so that teens can get the required 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night.
An even earlier study in 2011 found that insufficient sleep for teens (described as less than eight hours on average a night) was associated with cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use, sexual activity, not getting enough exercise, feeling sad or hopeless, and seriously considering attempting suicide. At the time, nearly 70 percent of teens were not getting enough sleep, the CDC found.
You have to wonder, given we have been seeing a link between sleep deprivation and behavioral and health issues with our young people reconfirmed to us over and over again, why haven't we as a society responded?
Perhaps the pattern we see in our teens merely reflects prevailing attitudes we have as adults. As a society, we just don't respect sleep. We continue to associate sleep with being lazy, while seeing sleeping as little as possible as not only being productive, but virtuous. Boy, are we mistaken. Getting enough sleep is not only essential; it's a proven third pillar of health.
We so often like to think of the difficulty many people have in controlling their weight and eating habits as merely an issue of willpower. There is now increasing evidence that the "lack of willpower" may be explained by chemical and hormonal changes resulting from sleep deficiency, that there is a clear link between obesity and insufficient sleep. According to recent finding published in the journal Sleep, the growth of this country's obesity epidemic over the past 40 years correlates with a progressive decline in the amount of sleep reported by the average adult. The study found that the "lack of willpower" may not be due to personal weakness, but rather a result of an addictive chemical imbalance resulting from sleep loss.
In today's technological age, both teens and adults have developed a habit of recharging their phones and laptops before they go to bed at night, while failing to sufficiently recharge their minds and bodies with a good night's sleep.
As I reported last October, J.J. Watt, NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best athletes on the planet, had a bed installed in a corner of the Texans' equipment room. Here, Watt and his teammates would steal away during extended breaks during training camp for a little nap time. Watt later revealed to another player that he also makes it a practice to be in bed by nine o'clock at night to ensure a full night's sleep and to provide the recovery time his body needs to remain in top shape. So let's get it out of our heads — sleep is not for wimps.
It's a fact: getting a good night's sleep improves memory, learning and mental health. While, like adults, some teens need more sleep than others, it's currently recommended that adolescents between the ages 14-17 aim for eight to 10 hours each night.
It's been found that most adults need seven to nine hours to function properly. I take no chances, I go for nine. It works for me.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Yann Caradec