Wake-Up Call for Parents of Sleepy Teens

clockHomework. Late-night pizzafests with friends. Midnight chat sessions on the Net. Let's face it: Teens lead lives that promote sleepiness.

But where is it written that sleep deprivation has to be a rite of passage into adulthood? Sleep is food for the brain, and changes in the body's chemistry during puberty make getting a good night's sleep more important -- and more challenging -- than most parents realize.

During the teen years, our internal circadian timing system, which regulates sleepiness and wakefulness (as well as other functions), shifts. Physiologically, teenagers are driven to go to sleep later (around 11pm) and to awaken later in the day than younger children and most adults.

If your kids are like most teens, they probably skimp on sleep during the week. According to Brown University's Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., one of the nation's leading researchers on sleep and youth, today's teen sleeps (on average) only seven to seven-and-a-half hours on school nights, incurring significant sleep loss. Most adolescents need about nine hours and fifteen minutes to be at their best (although eight-and-a-half hours may be adequate for some).

To make up for lost time, some teens play the "sleep debt" game and try to catch some extra zzzs during holidays and weekends. What they don't realize is that staying up an hour later than usual on two or more consecutive nights can actually send their circadian timing into a tailspin and leave them feeling as if they have jet lag. Plus, instead of sleeping until noon on weekends, most teens would be better off if going to bed earlier or napping on Saturday and Sunday.


What's worse, most teens think that sleep deprivation is no big deal. No one ever died from sleepiness, right? Wrong.

Poor sleep or lack of sleep CAN be life threatening. Drowsiness or fatigue has been cited as a principal cause of more than 100,000 traffic crashes yearly in the U.S. Over 1,500 Americans a year die as a result of sleep-related crashes, and more than half of these crashes involve drivers younger than 25 years old.

In other words, that extra hour or two of shut-eye could literally save your teenager's life!

For more information, contact the National Sleep Foundation.

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