More Sleep, Fewer Car Crashes

More Sleep, Fewer Car Crashes

By Anne Miller



Because ensuring teens get the sleep they need could actually mean the difference between life and death. 

By Anne Miller

Teens: They sleep too much and make poor decisions. Amirite?

Maybe not. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that getting enough sleep — eight hours on average — benefits American teenagers in a host of ways, from boosting grades to literally keeping them alive

They tracked 9,000 students at eight high schools across several Western states and discovered that at the school in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where administrators pushed the morning start time back to 8:55 a.m. The result?

The school’s teen car accident rate plummeted a stunning 70 percent.

Considering that drivers in the 16- to 19-year-old age group are three times more likely than other drivers to get into accidents, and every day seven American teens die in car crashes in 2010, it’s a move worth paying attention to — and emulating. 

The study, released this spring, also showed that the later the start time — which ranged from 7:30 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. — the more likely the kids were to pack in a solid eight hours of sleep before showing up for class. Almost 60 percent of kids enrolled at a school with an 8:35 a.m. start time logged at least eight hours of sleep, compared to just 34 percent of the students with a 7:30 a.m. start.

It goes without saying that teens that get eight hours of sleep benefit from more rest — but that’s not the only bonus. The added sleep also improves their:

Perks of more sleep for teens

  • Grades
  • Behavior
  • Substance abuse (they were less likely to drink, use drugs or ingest a venti coffee before class)
  • Decision-making skills
  • Ability to learn and pay attention

“Eight hours of sleep seems to be the tipping point for making healthy choices,” says Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, whose study was funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

But for parents who think the answer is forcing kids to turn off the TV and hit the hay earlier to get that eight-hour block of sleep, Wahlstrom says that’s a losing play in a battle against biology.

“The medical research shows that teenagers are incapable of falling asleep before 10:45.”

So maybe it’s not the kids, whom we assume are staying up too late and therefore waking up groggy. And instead of working against their natural rhythm, maybe we should work with it while doing what we can to ensure they’re getting their eight hours.

Their grades, their health — their very lives — could depend on it.