More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Just too wired: Why teens don't get enough sleep
April 07, 2006
Philadelphia Inquirer

Today's teenagers are getting far less sleep than they're supposed to, and a new national study blames their bedrooms. Or more precisely, what's in those bedrooms.

Computers, cell phones, televisions and video games all keep those who should be asleep wide awake, said Jodi A. Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and coauthor of the study. As a result, more than a quarter of high school students fall asleep in school at least once a week. Fourteen percent don't make it on time - if at all.

At fault is not just teenagers' altered circadian rhythm but the number of distractions keeping them up at night, according to a two-month poll of 1,602 caregivers and their children in grades six through 12.

Nearly all the children surveyed had one gadget in their bedrooms, but by 12th grade, 39 percent had more than four electronic items there, the study found.

"Those with four or more electronic devices in their bedroom were twice as likely to fall asleep in school," said Mindell, cochair of the National Sleep Foundation task force that conducted the poll.

Although late nights might seem like a rite of adolescent passage, Mindell said there were serious consequences, both in school and on the road.

Fourteen percent of the 11-to-17-year-olds said they arrive late or miss school because they oversleep, and 15 percent of those who drive said they drive sleepy at least once a week.

Ira Schwartz, 16, a junior at Cheltenham High School, has a cell phone, television, computer and video games in his room - and he shares his bed with three small dogs.

On school days, he falls asleep about 11 p.m., after watching TV or playing a couple of video games, with his alarm set at 6:30 a.m. He's out the door by 7:15, often skipping breakfast because he's "too tired," and sometimes catching a quick nap when he gets home at 3 p.m. But it's better than last year, when he had to be at swim practice at 5 a.m.

"Last year I really was falling asleep in my classes," he said. "And my grades suffered."

An optimal night's sleep for teens is nine hours, said Mary Carskadon, director of the E.P. Bradley Hospital sleep center at Brown University and the other study author. But researchers found that almost half slept fewer than eight hours on school nights.

Napping doesn't help much. Although 18 percent of ninth to 12th graders nap four or more days a week, they sleep only about an hour, Mindell said, and that doesn't make up for the night before.

Professor Bryan Polk, who teaches an 8 a.m. religion class at Penn State Abington, said he had always had a few sleepy students, but things started getting worse about five years ago.

"They leave their cell phones on all night and their friends call them in the middle of the night to say 'Hey, it's me, how are you doing?' " said Polk, who goes to bed at 10 p.m. so he can get up at 5 a.m. "In my house, if the phone rings in the middle of the night, someone is dead or someone is going to be dead."

Deborah Orel, whose son, Zachary Maron, goes to Cherry Hill High School East, said the late nights were a common discussion among her friends, most of whom are fast asleep when their children are chatting away.

Calling late was never a problem when she was a child, she said, because if someone called, the whole house knew about it.

"My friend just told me that she was removing her son's cell phone because he was on the phone until 12:30 in the morning with his girlfriend," Orel said.

"It's hard to know if they're talking on the cell," she said. "At least with the laptop, you can see there's a light."

Maron said he does keep his cell on, but people know not to call after 10, when he's wrapping up homework, talking to his girlfriend, and instant-messaging several friends on the computer.

The researchers said that as children reach puberty, their body clocks tended to readjust to start two hours later, so they are more alert at night and sleepier in the early morning. Mindell and Carskadon said schools should adjust their schedules accordingly, and start later. A few have done so, they said, and found that instead of staying up later, students sleep longer.

But until that happens, some students are thinking that if they can't sleep longer, they can sleep better.

Schwartz, who gave up swimming, took a job at the International House of Pancakes, working the late-night shift. His goal? To buy himself the Tempur-Pedic mattress.

"I laid down on it for a minute at Brookstone and nearly fell asleep," he said.
Ha! Great article - like the ending.

Electronics are an issue in my home. Ironically, I found myself not feeling good about the number of hours my son was playing online games yesterday and let him know that we needed to look at implementing a scheduled time for the computer. I warned him that it would be more like 2hrs instead of the 4 - 6hrs he has been recently trying to work into his day.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of his started coming over in the mornings so they could play their favorite online game. The kid shows up 2hrs before they need to leave for school! My son has NEVER consistently gotten up so early.

Anyway, I'm thinking I'll allow him to be on his computer from 7 - 9pm - providing all homework is done etc. And then after that he can do whatever he wants (non-electronic) for an hour before he showers and goes to bed.

With the weather being nicer, it'll be easier for them to do other things. Yesterday I had to pry him and another friend away from his room. His friend had come over 2hrs earlier with a Frisbee (they only had a 1/2 day due to parent/teacher interviews). They kept saying, "Just a sec mom", "We just gotta finish this game, mom", "I know mom! Just 2 more minutes".

I find it challenging to enforce a balance between technology and physical (or any other) activity because I am on the computer so much. Hm. We'd probably BOTH benefit from regulated hours away from the computer.

----I'm reminded of a Simpson's episode when the TV network crashed (or something) and there was no TV. All the kids opened the doors and were rubbing their eyes like they'd never seen day light, birds were chirping and the grass was green. Soon kids were playing on swings and having conversations - parents were engaging in real relationships with their kids - and people were happy.

Hahaha....hope the grass is green outside of my house!
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