What has the largest influence on teens’ sleep habits? A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviors explored this topic and found that social factors (e.g., relationships with parents and peers) outperform developmental factors (e.g., the timing of puberty and resultant drops in melatonin) in determining teens’ sleep patterns.
The study draws from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development(SECCYD), a longitudinal study of children’s physical, cognitive, and social development. The sample was 974 teens who reported on their own sleep habits at ages 12 and 15. The teens also reported on social ties (e.g., parental support and peer relationships), academic demands, and daily schedules, and their mothers reported on family structure and children’s physical development.
Findings showed that as children age from sixth grade to age 15, sleep duration on a school night declines from more than nine to a little less than eight hours per night, and reports of disrupted sleep increase over the interval. Generally, stressful social ties (e.g., when family composition changes because of divorce or remarriage) were shown to disrupt youths’ sleep. On the other hand, youths had healthier sleep (longer duration and of higher quality) when social ties were a source of support, such as when they felt part of the schools they attended or they were surrounded by academically oriented and prosocial friends.