ADOLESCENT SLEEP

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Updated October 5, 1999

They Need More Sleep

Adolescent sleep has been a very popular subject lately. People are questioning the fact that it may be true that their teenage sons and daughters may need more sleep than they did as a child, that they are not turning into lazy, sleepy young adults by choice.

Sometime in late puberty, the body secretes the sleep-related hormone melatonin at a different time than it normally does. This changes the circadian rhythms that guide a person's sleep-wake cycle. For instance, if you told your teen to go to bed at 10 p.m., she may end up staring at the ceiling until 1 or 2 a.m. waiting to fall asleep. At about 7:30 p.m. a teen feels wide awake and fully alert, unlike an adult who is starting to "wind down" and feel sleepier as the evening progresses so that at 10 p.m. the adult is ready to go to bed. The teen-agers "wind down" time takes place much later.

Changes Are Taking Place

Studies show that the changes taking place in their bodies requires more sleep and they may be physically challenged to getting up early in the morning. Their internal biological clock may slow down in adolescence. That can account for not their being sleepy until 2 a.m. To think that their child, who once awoke at the crack of dawn and was eager to watch cartoons even on Saturday mornings has now by choice, turned into a lazy, sleepy, young adult who wouldn't wake up in the morning if a bomb went off in the next room, is trying to undermine their authority in some way.

How Much Sleep Do They Need?

Adolescents need 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep. Children need 10 hours and adults need 8 1/4 hours. They rarely get that much due to early school start time, inability to fall asleep until late at night, work, social life and homework. Parents may need to adjust their child's schedule to allow more sleep. Most teens are chronically sleep deprived and try to "catch up" on their sleep by sleeping in on the weekends. Ultimately they should go to bed and wake up at the same time. That is considered "good sleep hygiene."

How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect the Teen-ager?

Sleep deprivation can impair memory and inhibit creativity making it difficult for sleep deprived students to learn. Teens struggle to learn to deal with stress and control emotion -- sleep deprivation makes it even more difficult. Irritability, lack of self confidence and mood swings are often common in a teen, but sleep deprivation makes it worse. Depression can result from chronic sleep deprivation. Not enough sleep can endanger their immune system and make them more suceptible to serious illnesses.

Judgement can be impaired. We don't know how many car crashes involving teen drivers are sleep related, but it is certainly a safety risk.

What Can We Do?

Monitor your child's activities. Along with school, teens often play sports, take specialized lessons in the arts, work part time, attend school functions and clubs and spend time with their friends. If he has too much on his schedule, have him choose the most important ones and stick to a reasonable schedule that allows time for homework and adequate rest.

Talk to your PTA about changing the school start time. Many High Schools have pushed the starting bell as early as 7:15 a.m. The average American teen-ager gets 6.5 hours of sleep on a school night, some lots less. There is evidence that many teens snooze through their morning classes. If they had adequate sleep, they would learn more. Some Minnesota schools have moved back start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. They are reporting better grades and fewer discipline problems.

Here are a few special sleep hygiene tips for teen-agers:

Note: Sleep experts consider adolescents to be between the ages of 11 and 22.

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