Lack of sleep for teens becoming a “public health epidemic”

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Teens just aren't getting enough sleep. This according to a local psychologist who has studied sleep patterns for years.

Brett Kuhn at UNMC tells 6 News that not only is the lack of teen sleep becoming a major health concern but it could lead to a whole new generation of mental health problems.

"It's getting to be a public health epidemic it's so bad," Kuhn said. He explained that the current generation of teens is getting less sleep than most generations of the past. "Sleep debt is a real thing."

You can actually rack up a lack of energy over many days. Making up for it on the weekends isn't enough. Kuhn says sleeping in too late can offset your sleep pattern so teens wake groggier because their body is thrown off by the disjointed sleep rhythm.

"What sets our daily rhythm is actually the time that we wake up each morning combined with outdoor or bright light."

Bright lights are beaming onto your teen's eyes all day at school at home from those electronic devices they’re often glued to. "It doesn't take a whole lot of light. The blue screen from an iPhone, from a TV, from a video game is enough to delay the time that they can fall asleep."

Kuhn says naps are great ways to make up that sleep debt. He points to some schools in California that are scheduling nap periods during high school. Later school times are also a growing trend nationally.

Without the proper sleep time your teen is being weighed down. "You're carrying that around like more books in a backpack every day."

New studies are quickly showing that bipolar disorder...schizophrenia and severe anxiety can all be traced back to sleep deprivation. "We used to think that mental health problems caused insomnia or caused sleep problems but now the evidence shows that the arrow goes both ways."

According to Kuhn there haven't been many long-term studies to show just how detrimental sleep debt could be for teens. He fears the negative results may not be noticeable for years if not decades.