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Return to Sleep Awareness Week Highlights Teens' Sleep Needs Overview

More on Sleep Awareness Week Highlights Teens' Sleep Needs

Sleep Awareness Week Highlights Teens' Sleep Needs

Breaking News - March 2006 - Week 5

(Mar 29, 2006)

Healthcare in  the News

-- An alarming number of adolescents are nodding off in class, driving while drowsy, and falling asleep over their homework, all because they are not getting enough sleep, a new survey shows.

Picture of teenages sitting on school steps

And, according to a new poll just released by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the lack of sleep gets worse as teens get older.

The annual Sleep in America poll released Tuesday is part of the NSF's ninth annual National Sleep Awareness Week campaign, held March 27 through April 2, 2006. The campaign coincides with the return to Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

JustOne-Fifth of Teens Getting Enough Sleep

"Only 20 percent of children are getting optimal sleep, and nearly half are getting insufficient sleep," says Dr. Christopher Drake, a clinical psychologist with the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Center in Detroit and a member of the board of directors of the NSF. "This is affecting all areas of their life."

"Clearly, there can be an impact on all areas of functioning," Dr. Drake continues. "Kids who are getting insufficient sleep are more likely to feel depressed, more likely to get poorer grades, and be impaired while driving. This is a major, major serious area of concern."

"It's a trend that we're beginning to recognize as real, though we have suspected it for a while," says Dr. Francisco Perez-Guerra, a professor of internal medicine at Texas AM University's Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of the Scott White Sleep Disorders Center in College Station.

"This is the first poll to look at it, so I think we are beginning to learn what is happening out there and what we can do," says Dr. Perez-Guerra, who is also a member of the NSF 's board of directors.

Survey Results Revealed

In a national survey on the sleep patterns of US adolescents ages 11-17, the 2006 Sleep in America poll found that only 20 percent of adolescents get the recommended nine hours of sleep on school nights, and nearly one-half sleep less than eight hours on school nights.

The poll indicates that the consequences of insufficient sleep affect nearly every aspect of teenage life. Among the most important findings:

  • At least once a week, more than one-quarter (28 percent) of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall asleep doing homework, and 14 percent arrive late or miss school because they oversleep.
  • Adolescents who get insufficient amounts of sleep are more likely than their peers to get lower grades, while 80 percent of adolescents who get an optimal amount of sleep say they are achieving As and Bs in school.
  • More than one-half (51 percent) of adolescent drivers have driven drowsy during the past year. In fact, 15 percent of drivers in 10th to 12th grades drive drowsy at least once a week.
  • More than one-quarter (28 percent) of adolescents say they are too tired to exercise.
  • Only 41 percent of respondents said they got a good night's sleep every, or most, nights. Ten percent reported rarely or never getting a good night's sleep.
  • Three-quarters of respondents said they had at least one caffeinated beverage each day, while 31 percent said they had two or more such drinks. Caffeine can affect sleep.

In addition, the poll found that parents are mostly in the dark about their adolescents’ sleep requirements.

While most students know they are not getting the sleep they need, 90 percent of parents polled believe that their adolescent is getting enough sleep at least a few nights during the school week.

Compounding the Problem

The poll also found that the amount of sleep declines as adolescents get older.

The survey classifies nine or more hours a night as an optimal amount of sleep in line with sleep experts’ recommendations for this age group, with less than eight hours classified as insufficient.

Sixth-graders report they sleep an average of 8.4 hours on school nights, while 12th-graders sleep just 6.9 hours - 1.5 hours less than their younger peers and two hours less than recommended.

In fact, by the time adolescents become high school seniors, they are missing out on nearly 12 hours of needed sleep each week.

"This poll identifies a serious reduction in adolescents’ sleep as students transition from middle school to high school," says Richard L. Gelula, NSF’s chief executive officer.

"This is particularly troubling as adolescence is a critical period of development and growth - academically, emotionally, and physically," says Gelula.

Solving the Teen Sleep Problem

Adolescents naturally feel more alert later at night and wake up later in the morning. More than half (54 percent) of high-school seniors go to bed at 11 p.m. or later. Yet those same adolescents have to wake up at around 6:30 in order to get to school.

"It is the natural tendency of adolescent to go to bed later because of their body clock," confirms Dr. Perez-Guerra. "There is some bias."

Much of the problem lies not with teens but with society. But apart from asking schools to start later (which some states have done), what can be done?

"We need to tell parents to be alert [regarding signs of sleep deprivation]and, just like they ask about drugs, they can ask about sleep," Dr. Perez-Guerra says. "They need to learn that an adolescent should be able to get out of bed without much prodding."

"There are a lot of things that parents can do to help teens get better sleep," Dr. Drake adds.

"One is to get rid of the computer, get rid of the Internet, get rid of the television," he says. "It's important to get those things out of the bedroom, as well as telling kids not to drink caffeine after 12 noon.

Dr. Drake continues, "It's also important to keep a regular schedule on weekdays and weekends, allowing for at least 9 hours in bed at night."

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


Research on Teen Sleep

The data from the 2006 Sleep in America poll support previous work by researchers who are at the forefront of sleep research.

Studies have found that adolescents are not getting enough sleep; this can lead to a number of physical and emotional impairments.

Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D, with Bradley Hospital and Brown Medical School in Rhode Island, chaired the National Sleep Foundation poll task force, and has been a leading authority on teen sleep for more than a decade.

Her research on adolescent circadian rhythms indicates that the internal clocks of adolescents undergo maturational changes, making them different from those of children or adults.

Nevertheless, teens must adhere to increasingly earlier school start times that make it nearly impossible for them to get enough sleep.

"Our results show that the adage 'early to bed, early to rise' presents a real challenge for adolescents," says Dr. Carskadon, who directs the Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Sleep Laboratory and is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School.

In a study published in the journal Sleep, Dr. Carskadon found that the "sleep pressure" rate - the biological trigger that causes sleepiness - slows down in adolescence and is one more explanation for why teens cannot fall asleep until later at night.

Dr. Carskadon's newest finding indicates that, in addition to the changes in their internal clocks, adolescents experience slower sleep pressure, which may contribute to an overall shift in teen sleep cycles to later hours.

Last June, a major report in the journal Pediatrics reviewed more than two decades of basic research with clinical advice for physicians.

The report indicated that adolescents aged 13 to 22 need nine to 10 hours of sleep each night.

The study also discussed the hormonal changes that conspire against them. When puberty hits, the body's production of sleep-inducing melatonin is delayed, making an early bedtime biologically almost impossible for most teens.

At the same time, the report notes, external forces such as after-school sports, jobs, and early school start times put the squeeze on a full night's sleep.

The result: A profoundly negative effect on mood, school performance, and cognitive function, according to the study authors.

Studies also show that young people between 16 and 29 years of age were the most likely to be involved in crashes caused by the driver falling asleep.

"Some of our kids are literally sleep-walking through life, with some potentially serious consequences," says Dr. Richard Millman, professor of medicine at Brown Medical School and director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Lifespan Hospitals.

"As clinicians and researchers, we know more now than ever about the biological and behavioral issues that prevent kids from getting enough sleep," says Dr. MIllman.

"But the National Sleep Foundation did something powerful: They asked teens themselves about their sleep. The results are startling and should be a wake-up call to any parent or pediatrician," he adds.

Always consult your child's physician for more information regarding your child's sleep needs.


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