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From Z's to A's: Teens Need More Sleep


WebMD Health News

Sept. 28, 2000 (Washington) -- American teens are not getting enough sleep during the school week, and that potentially could lead to poor schoolwork and behavioral problems, as well as thousands of unnecessary car accidents, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

In a "wake-up call" to educators and parents, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization on Thursday released a report outlining what sleep advocates call an alarming trend: As American children enter their teens, they appear to be getting less sleep during the school week with the passage of each year.

"The research points to a major problem in need of action," says Ronald Krall, president of NSF.

Sleep studies have established that adolescents need between eight and a half to a little more than nine hours of sleep each night. But recent surveys show that only about 15% of American teens sleep eight-and-a-half hours each night, and more than one-quarter sleep less than seven hours by their late teens, according to the report.

And there are consequences. Because of teen-age physiological changes, teen-agers already are more prone to daytime sleepiness even when they get optimal amounts of sleep, says Mary Carskadon, PhD, a recognized expert on adolescent sleep patterns and professor of psychiatry at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I. As a result, sleep-deprived teen-agers are more likely to perform badly in school and exhibit behavioral problems, she says.

"How can they function well when walking under a gray cloud all day?" Carskadon asks.

According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, lack of sleep also can be a silent killer, Carskadon says. These statistics show that at least 100,000 accidents occur each year because of driver fatigue -- the majority of which can be credited to teen-agers, she says.

To address the problem, the NSF essentially makes three recommendations: First, school boards should establish schedules that are structured to accommodate adolescents' need for sleep. Second, parents should ensure that their children get an adequate amount of sleep by making it a priority at home. And finally, both parents and teachers should empower teen-agers to make smart decisions by teaching them the importance of sleep, the organization says.

Still, high schools and parents may be only part of the problem.

In today's competitive environment, students that wish to succeed are under increasing pressure to participate in more and more activities, leaving them with little time to catch up on their studies, says Catherine Colglazier, an English teacher at Mclean High School in Fairfax County, Va. "It's a sort of an Olympic mentality," she tells WebMD.

But while those are important considerations, it does not discount the importance of adequate sleep, Carskadon says. In fact, it demonstrates that society simply has a lot to learn about the need for sleep, she tells WebMD.

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