Why It Matters

Don't snooze on sleep issue

The findings keep coming and they are never good.

Yet again, a study reported in March on teenagers in Singapore is pointing to the deleterious effects of not getting enough sleep.

The study, by the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, showed that teens who were sleep deprived did worse cognitively after one week than teens who had enough sleep. Just seven nights of shortened sleep resulted in prominent deterioration of sustained attention, working memory and alertness, as well as foul moods. The price teens pay for sleep deprivation is not just for now. In the long term, it is also linked to high blood pressure, depression, behavioural problems and impaired growth.

When teens and adults do not get enough sleep, the body's hunger hormones kick in and there is a tendency for them to gain weight, said Dr Lim Li Ling, a neurologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

While there are few studies linking inadequate sleep to diabetes in children and teens, it is known that it can lead to increased insulin resistance and obesity, said endocrinologist Peter Eng.

Older teens and adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep a day, teens aged 14 to 17 need eight to 10 hours, and children aged six to 13 should have nine to 11 hours. But bedtime rolls around and you can be sure parents are waging battles with their teenage children who, instead of sleeping, are studying or surfing the Internet, for instance.

Still, research also suggests that these at-odds sleep patterns are not deliberate but a natural development of adolescence. More radical solutions involving the larger community may be needed. Professor Michael Chee, the study's senior author, is not the first to propose that schools start later to suit the circadian rhythms of youth and their heavier work schedules.

Despite repeated calls, school hours remain the same and teens continue to struggle with lack of sleep. With the war against diabetes set to cost the nation $1.4 billion a year, it is clear that victories need to be won on all fronts, and the issue of sleep adequacy merits a long, hard, renewed look.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Don't snooze on sleep issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe