Is Your Teen Too Tired?
By Janis Graham
If your teen is a night owl and struggles to get up in the morning, he has
plenty of company: Almost 80 percent of adolescents don't get the recommended
amount of sleep, reports a recent National Sleep Foundation poll.
Sleep-deprived teens aren't just cranky; they're also more likely to get poor
grades, feel depressed, and-perhaps scariest of all-fall asleep behind the
The ideal amount of sleep for kids ages 11 to 17 is between 81/2 and 91/4
hours a night. That may sound like a lot, but there is plenty that parents can
do to help their kids get enough rest, says Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D. As
director of the Chronobiology and Sleep Research Laboratory at Bradley Hospital
in East Providence, Rhode Island, she co-chaired the National Sleep
Foundation's 2006 Sleep in America Poll for children ages 11 to 17. She is also
a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School, where she
studies the causes of daytime sleepiness in teenagers. Here, Carskadon answers
questions about the unique sleep problems of teens and tweens.
Parents would know if their teens were getting too little sleep, right?
Not necessarily. It's surprisingly easy to misinterpret the cues. For
instance, a top sign of lack of sleep is irritability-yet many parents may
think, All teens are moody and difficult. In fact, as many as half of the
teenagers we study are so sleep deprived they look as if they have narcolepsy,
a serious neurological disorder that leaves people excessively tired. One of
the worst consequences of this is car accidents. A major North Carolina study
of crashes caused by the driver falling asleep behind the wheel found that
about half involved a driver under age 25. Plus, kids who are sleepy are more
likely to drift off in class, miss school entirely, and have trouble with
learning and remembering. In some cases, a teen's mood disorder is a direct
result of poor sleep.
Why do teens get so little sleep?
The onset of puberty is partly to blame. It changes a child's sleep timing
system, also called the circadian system, which triggers the secretion of
melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep. As kids mature, melatonin is
secreted later and later in the evening. At the same time, during adolescence
there's a slowdown of the "sleep pressure" rate-the rate at which
sleepiness builds up over the course of the day. This also makes it easier for
teens to stay awake longer and later.
You mean it's natural for teens to stay up late?
That's right. Studies show that high school students' natural time to fall
asleep is around 11 p.m.-partly because they're so revved up from all their
evening activities. This isn't a problem when they're able to sleep in. Over
winter break, for instance, many kids stay up past midnight, then get up at 10
or 11 a.m. and feel really great.