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Sleep experts to teens: Please, get your zzz's

Lack of proper rest poses health, education risks

October 6, 2000
Web posted at: 9:14 AM EDT (1314 GMT)


In this story:

'We are asking them
to sleep at the wrong time'


'I normally get
about six hours of sleep a night'


LESSON PLAN
RELATED STORIES, SITES
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- High school student Naomi Freeman is busy, like many of her peers. She juggles academic, extracurricular and work responsibilities -- and, when there's time, she sleeps.

Freeman's six hours sleep a night is not unusual among teen-agers. It's also not healthy according to experts, who say millions of young people may be putting their health and education at risk by not making sleep a higher priority.

Earlier this fall, experts recommended that schools adopt later starting times to fit the unique sleep patterns of teen-agers.

"Kids are too sleepy to learn well. They're too sleepy to be happy. And they're at great risk for such things as traffic accidents," said Dr. Mary Carskadon, who researches adolescent sleep patterns and is co-chairwoman of the National Sleep Foundation task force on teen-agers and sleep.

The foundation, in what it calls a "wake-up call" to teens, parents and educators, released a report -- "Adolescent Sleep Needs and Patterns" -- that warns of the consequences of sleep deprivation. It also suggests lifestyle changes to ensure adolescents get adequate rest.

 RESOURCES
How to help a sleepy teen
 
 REPORT
Read the report/Adobe Acrobat Reader required
 
 How much sleep do teens need?
Most adolescents need at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But it estimates that only 15 percent of young people get that much, with 25 percent of teens getting less than seven hours.

 ALSO
Please send questions you'd like to see asked on "Your Brain," a live webcast on December 7, 2000. E-mail us at: learningadventure@cnn.com
 

'We are asking them to sleep at the wrong time'

"Teen-agers don't need less sleep the older they get. They still need as much sleep as they did when they were pre-teens," Carskadon told CNN. "We, as a society, are asking them to sleep at the wrong time."

Her research shows that adolescents tend to fall asleep and awaken later than adults and often experience an increase in daytime sleepiness -- even when they get enough rest.

"This can put their circadian rhythm, or biological clock, in conflict with the school bell," Carskadon said. "The result illustrates a critical trend: too many teens come to school too sleepy to learn. And their fatigue often leads to behavior problems that contribute to a negative overall school performance and experience."

Among the NSF's recommendations is the creation of "sleep-smart schools" that adopt sleep education curricula and review school start times that more adequately respond to a teen's biological shift to a later sleep/wake cycle.

Lifestyle changes at home, to make sufficient sleep on a regularly scheduled basis a top priority for adolescents and adults, are also suggested.

'I normally get about six hours of sleep a night'

Adapting to such changes would be tough for Freeman, 17, who is student council president at her high school in Beacon, New York, as well as captain of the cheerleading squad.

"(On) a typical day, I get up at 6 in the morning to be at school by 7. I go to a pep club until 7:40," she told CNN. Then, it's off to her classes. Freeman's after-school activities include a part-time job, an internship and volunteer work.

And after that, she does homework, getting to bed about midnight. "I normally get about six hours of sleep a night... I have no time to get any more," she said.

Such a hectic schedule is typical of many young people, according to Amy Fishbein, health and fitness editor Seventeen magazine.

"Yes, it's really common," Fishbein told CNN. "There's a lot more pressure on teens to get into college, to excel academically. Social pressures are really high. There's the computer, all the stuff on the computer, it's more distracting. There are a lot more things to do."

Any suggestion that over-indulgent parents are to blame for sleep-deprived teens ignores the scientific evidence, Fishbein argues.

"Teen-agers have a biological tendency to stay up later and sleep later," she explains. "So the way their school day is structured for them actually doesn't help them out any. So it's definitely not the case of the over-indulgent parent, it's definitely all the pressures in society."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, who advocates schools setting later start times, has introduced a bill in Congress to provide financial incentives to districts that push back the opening bell.

"Teens are paying a heavy price for following the old adage, "early to bed, early to rise,'" she was quoted as saying in a NSF news release. "It's time for high schools to synchronize their clocks with their students' body clocks so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential."

The Washington-based foundation describes itself as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders.

CNN.com Senior Writer Jim Morris wrote this report.



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June 12, 2000

RELATED SITES:
National Sleep Foundation
Sleepnet.com

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