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U.S. teens have been getting less and less sleep over the past 20 years.

U.S. teens have been getting less and less sleep over the past 20 years.

Sleep rates among U.S. teenagers have been steadily declining over the past 20 years, according to a new study.

A team of researchers led by Columbia University professor Katherine Keyes evaluated the sleep data of over 270,000 teenagers submitted between 1991 and 2012. The researchers' findings, published in the February 16 edition of Pediatrics, found that only 63 percent of 15-year-olds are getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, a notable decrease from the 72 percent seen in 1991. 

The study also determined that the age range of 13 to 18 years in particular causes sleep rates to drastically fall short of recommended levels. While two-thirds of 13-year-olds manage to sleep at least seven hours per night, that number was then cut in half by the time those teens reached age 18.

"After age 16, the majority [of U.S. teens] are not meeting the recommended [sleep] guidelines," said Keyes in an official statement, adding that their team also found a gender gap in sleep rates. "Girls are less likely to get an adequate amount of sleep compared to boys."

What's causing this drop-off in teenage sleep? While Keyes and her team couldn't draw any direct cause-and-effect link, she did note that increasingly higher electronic device use — whether it's playing video games, texting or browsing social media on laptops and smartphones — could be playing a part in teenage sleep impairment. But while excessive levels of screen time have been attributed by others outside of this survey to a decline in quality sleep, the researchers here found that the biggest declines occurred in the first half of the study period, between 1991 and 2000, well before the widespread use of these devices.

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