Why Are so Many Young Americans Dying?

Commentary As a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows young Americans are dying at an alarming rate. The researchers, all medical doctors, found that, between 2020 and 2022, the mortality rate for Americans aged between 1 and 19 shot up by almost 20 percent. As the study emphasizes, COVID-19 can’t be blamed for the sharp spike. It simply “poured fuel” on an already existing fire. Likely contributors, according to the paper, include ease of access to firearms and a mental health crisis among children and adolescents that appears to be getting much worse. Another reason cited involves the increased use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. Overdose death rates for individuals between the ages of 10 and 19, note the authors, began increasing shortly before the pandemic began. The paper paints an incredibly dark picture of adolescence in America. In recent years, injury mortality at ages 10 to 19 has risen by 22.6 percent. Much of this surge can be attributed to an increase in homicides and overdoses. Worryingly, transport-related deaths for 10 to 19-year-olds, “which had decreased for decades due to improved vehicle safety measures and greater use of occupant restraints,” have also increased. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, told me that he and his colleagues find the increase in all-cause mortality particularly disturbing, with “the continued rise in homicides and suicides” being of particular concern. The rise in motor vehicle deaths, said Rivara, “is probably related to cell phone use and distracted driving.” I asked him why so many young Americans are dying. “It is not totally clear,” he said, but, he added, “One of the big changes over the last decade is the pervasive use and influence of social media on kids. There is also the continued increase in gun sales, which means more guns are available in homes.” I asked Rivara if he and his colleagues considered sleep deprivation to be a major contributor to the crisis. “I don’t know if anyone has looked at that association,” he responded. I have. Sleepwalking Into the Abyss A staggering 35 percent of Americans are now sleep deprived, meaning they get 7 hours or less of quality rest each night. For the uninitiated, being sleep deprived is not the same as feeling tired. The latter means you are in need of a rest; the former involves complete fatigue and exhaustion, both mentally and physically. In the United States, sleep deprivation has been on the rise for the best part of 30 years. The internet has played a huge role in affecting both the quantity and quality of our sleep. This is especially true for teens, many of whom are victims of a sleep deprivation epidemic, according to Lisa L. Lewis, the author of “The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive,” Lack of sleep in teens is directly associated with emotional dysregulation and poorer impulse control, as well as riskier decision-making. Moreover, depressive symptoms are more common in young people who are sleep deprived. Poor sleep quality is also strongly associated with increased suicidal ideation. Over the past decade, teen suicides have jumped by a staggering 29 percent. The link between road fatalities and sleep deprivation is also particularly strong. You’re no doubt familiar with the scourge of drunk and drugged driving, but drowsy driving is also a real public health issue. Research clearly shows that drivers who get between 6 and 7 hours of sleep are at 1.3 times greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident; those who get between 5 and 6 hours, meanwhile, are almost twice as likely to be injured than those who get between 7 and 8 hours. The average American gets considerably less than seven hours of sleep per night. Worryingly, teenagers, with their rapidly developing minds and bodies, require anywhere between 8 and 10 hours per night. Last year, Laurent Bègue, a psychologist at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, and his colleagues published a compelling paper clearly demonstrating the many ways in which sleep deprivation ruins a person’s life. The researchers discussed the effects of poor sleep quality on anger issues among adolescents. Sleep deprivation, they noted, could be “related to hostility and aggression because it induces more negative interpretations of other people’s behavior than is really the case.” In other words, when we’re sleep deprived, the ability to perceive and process information in a rational manner becomes compromised. This compromise clouds judgment and can result in ill-advised responses. People who lack enough sleep are more likely to catastrophize and falsely assign blame to innocent individuals. The researchers also stressed the fact that sleep deprivation dramatically weakens impulse control. This in turn “im

Why Are so Many Young Americans Dying?

Commentary

As a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows young Americans are dying at an alarming rate. The researchers, all medical doctors, found that, between 2020 and 2022, the mortality rate for Americans aged between 1 and 19 shot up by almost 20 percent. As the study emphasizes, COVID-19 can’t be blamed for the sharp spike. It simply “poured fuel” on an already existing fire.

Likely contributors, according to the paper, include ease of access to firearms and a mental health crisis among children and adolescents that appears to be getting much worse. Another reason cited involves the increased use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. Overdose death rates for individuals between the ages of 10 and 19, note the authors, began increasing shortly before the pandemic began.

The paper paints an incredibly dark picture of adolescence in America. In recent years, injury mortality at ages 10 to 19 has risen by 22.6 percent. Much of this surge can be attributed to an increase in homicides and overdoses. Worryingly, transport-related deaths for 10 to 19-year-olds, “which had decreased for decades due to improved vehicle safety measures and greater use of occupant restraints,” have also increased.

One of the authors of the study, Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, told me that he and his colleagues find the increase in all-cause mortality particularly disturbing, with “the continued rise in homicides and suicides” being of particular concern.

The rise in motor vehicle deaths, said Rivara, “is probably related to cell phone use and distracted driving.”

I asked him why so many young Americans are dying.

“It is not totally clear,” he said, but, he added, “One of the big changes over the last decade is the pervasive use and influence of social media on kids. There is also the continued increase in gun sales, which means more guns are available in homes.”

I asked Rivara if he and his colleagues considered sleep deprivation to be a major contributor to the crisis.

“I don’t know if anyone has looked at that association,” he responded.

I have.

Sleepwalking Into the Abyss

A staggering 35 percent of Americans are now sleep deprived, meaning they get 7 hours or less of quality rest each night. For the uninitiated, being sleep deprived is not the same as feeling tired. The latter means you are in need of a rest; the former involves complete fatigue and exhaustion, both mentally and physically.

In the United States, sleep deprivation has been on the rise for the best part of 30 years. The internet has played a huge role in affecting both the quantity and quality of our sleep. This is especially true for teens, many of whom are victims of a sleep deprivation epidemic, according to Lisa L. Lewis, the author of “The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive,”

Lack of sleep in teens is directly associated with emotional dysregulation and poorer impulse control, as well as riskier decision-making. Moreover, depressive symptoms are more common in young people who are sleep deprived. Poor sleep quality is also strongly associated with increased suicidal ideation. Over the past decade, teen suicides have jumped by a staggering 29 percent.

The link between road fatalities and sleep deprivation is also particularly strong. You’re no doubt familiar with the scourge of drunk and drugged driving, but drowsy driving is also a real public health issue. Research clearly shows that drivers who get between 6 and 7 hours of sleep are at 1.3 times greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident; those who get between 5 and 6 hours, meanwhile, are almost twice as likely to be injured than those who get between 7 and 8 hours. The average American gets considerably less than seven hours of sleep per night. Worryingly, teenagers, with their rapidly developing minds and bodies, require anywhere between 8 and 10 hours per night.

Last year, Laurent Bègue, a psychologist at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, and his colleagues published a compelling paper clearly demonstrating the many ways in which sleep deprivation ruins a person’s life. The researchers discussed the effects of poor sleep quality on anger issues among adolescents. Sleep deprivation, they noted, could be “related to hostility and aggression because it induces more negative interpretations of other people’s behavior than is really the case.”

In other words, when we’re sleep deprived, the ability to perceive and process information in a rational manner becomes compromised. This compromise clouds judgment and can result in ill-advised responses. People who lack enough sleep are more likely to catastrophize and falsely assign blame to innocent individuals.

The researchers also stressed the fact that sleep deprivation dramatically weakens impulse control. This in turn “impacts cognitive, response-control processes and complex decision-making performance.” Lack of impulse control is strongly correlated with increased drug use, internet addiction, interpersonal violence, reckless driving, and suicidal tendencies.

As is clear to see, when asking why so many young Americans are dying, we can’t have an honest discussion without acknowledging the significant role sleep deprivation plays in this ever-worsening crisis.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.