"We know that sleep problems in general are very
prevalent among teenagers," said Wendy Troxel, a behavioral and
social scientist at the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, who led the research.
"These findings show that teenagers from single-parent homes may be
particularly vulnerable," she told Reuters Health.
Troxel cautions, however, that the study results merely indicate
some connection between single-parent family structures and
increased sleep problems among adolescents, not cause-and-effect.
"Do not over-interpret these findings," said Troxel, who is also an
adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "All
we're doing is showing associations. The implication is not: tell
parents to get married," she wrote in an email.
The idea that parents' marital status may affect youngsters' health
is well established, but most research on the topic has focused on
mental and physical effects observed during waking hours.
What little research has been done on sleep-associated effects
focuses on younger children, not adolescents, Troxel and her
colleagues point out in the journal Sleep Medicine.
To investigate teenagers' sleeping patterns, the researchers
recruited 242 students, aged 14-19 years, from a Pennsylvania high
school. The teenagers answered questionnaires about their sleep
habits and also wore a special sleep-monitoring watch that collected
information about their sleep patterns over a period of seven days
The researchers also asked questions of the students and their
parent or guardian about symptoms of depression in the teens, and
levels of conflict among family members or financial strain at home.
Most of the students, 147 teenagers, were from single-parent
families, while the remaining 95 students were from two-parent
Teenagers from single-parent homes had lower sleep efficiency — a
measure of sleep duration and fragmentation — both during the week
and on weekends than did their peers from two-parent homes.
The kids from single-parent homes also slept fewer hours during the
weekend than their peers. That remained true even when the
researchers took into consideration the teenagers' age, gender,
race, parents' education and other factors that might influence the
[to top of second column]
Race did seem to play a role in the degree to which family
structure affected the teenagers' sleep. For example, black
teenagers in single-parent homes experienced lower sleep efficiency
on weekends than black teens in two-parent families and whites from
single- or two-parent families.
Family structure did not appear to affect bedtimes among black
youth. But white teenagers from single-parent homes had greater
inconsistencies in their bedtimes and more sleep-wake problems, such
as erratic sleeping patterns, than white teens from two-parent
"The findings are a message to parents that consistent bedtimes are
key," Troxel said. She added that it's important for parents "to be
actively involved in managing (their children's') nighttime
routine," including restricting media at bedtime.
Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children's National
Medical Center in Washington, DC, told Reuters Health that parents
should make their child's sleeping habits a high priority.
"Paying attention to the amount of sleep and the sleeping habits
that their adolescents get is just as important as other health
messages." she said. For example, difficulty waking adolescents in
the morning may be a warning sign that the teenager is not getting
"If you can sleep longer on the weekends, that means you need more
sleep Monday through Friday," she said. Other warning signs of
inadequate sleep include dozing off in the classroom and dozing
during homework time.
Parents should take these signs seriously, considering the known
short and long-term effects of inadequate sleep, she said, such as
the increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular problems.
"Sleep is important — just as important as good nutrition and
healthy amounts of exercise," Owens said.
Sleep Medicine, online Dec. 26,
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.