Shocking Study Says 95 Percent of Teens Don't Get Enough Sleep and Exercise


We all know that getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night is crucial for your health, and that anything less than that can seriously increase your risk of heart disease and dementia, inhibit your ability to retain memories and learn new skills, and even make you gain weight. And science has widely confirmed that getting at least 45 minutes of exercise three-to-five times per week plays a pivotal role in your mood, health, and lifespan. But, according to a study recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, only about one in 20 American teenagers are actually getting an adequate amount of sleep and exercise.

Researchers analyzed the data of almost 60,000 teens who completed the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey between 2011 and 2017, and found that only five percent of them are engaging in the recommended amount of shut-eye and physical activity for their age group, or limiting their screen time.

According to the report, teens aged 14 to 18 should sleep eight to ten hours per night, take part in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and limit their screen time to less than two hours during any 24-hour period. The latter recommendation seems particularly unrealistic, given that a 2015 study found that teens spend an average of nine hours every single day consuming media. More recently, a report from the Pew Research Center claims 54 percent of teens admit they spend way too much time on their cellphones, and 60 percent of them recognize that tech addiction is a major problem facing their age group.

Indeed it is, as research has linked excessive social media usage in teens to higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-esteem and body image issues, and even suicide. One distressing recent study even found that young people are now the loneliest age group in America.

But the lack of sleep and exercise is nothing to scoff at, either, especially given that those factors have also previously been linked to depression, poor grades, and obesity in teens.

"There is plenty of evidence to show how teenagers aren't getting enough physical activity, or sufficient sleep, or keeping their screen time in check. But this is the first time these three factors, which have a crucial bearing on a child's health, have been analyzed together among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents," Gregory Knell, a postdoctoral research fellow at UT Health School of Public Health in Dallas and lead author of the study, said in a university newsletter. "The results are a wake-up call for everyone who wants to make sure our children have a healthy future."

For Knell, the revelation that so many teens were failing to meet all three of these guidelines raises serious concerns.

"By far the most startling finding was how few adolescents across the board are meeting all three recommendations," Knell said. "I expected the percentage of adolescents meeting all three requirements concurrently to be low, but not this low. The combined effect on children's overall health could be considerable in terms of their physical health, emotional well-being, and academic performance."

The results found that older teenagers, non-Hispanic black children, Asian children, those who showed signs of depression, and those who classified as obese were the least likely to meet all three requirements as compared to other teens.

While the results of the study are no doubt alarming, it's hard to determine what actions parents should take to manage this current crisis. Some experts recommend instating a "Threshold Handover"—a time when teens must hand over their phones, such as when they come home, during dinner, and at least an hour before bed. The idea is to foster the expectation that screen time is secondary to things like spending time with family, doing chores, exercising, or completing their homework. Experts also note that it's best not to monitor their activity too much, as it can lead to a breakdown of trust and result in even moodier behavior, while instilling the idea that screen time is a reward as opposed to the de facto way to spend their time.

And for more important news regarding your child's health, find out why Parents Are Asking Babysitters to Sign Contracts Forbidding Social Media on the Job.

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