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Teens and Sleep

At most high schools, classes begin at 7:30 a.m. But sleep researchers now say that teenagers aren't meant to climb out from under the covers that early.

Sleep patterns change during adolescence. Most teens tend to stay up later at night, whether socializing or doing homework, and sleep later in the morning.

Brown University psychology professor Mary Carskadon has been studying the effect of early morning schedules on teens since the early 1980's. Carskadon says that this change in sleep patterns is not a choice, but rather a biological need. Older teens get a nightly squirt of the hormone melatonin (which induces sleepiness) about an hour later than younger adolescents do. This not only causes the teens to stay up later, it affects their sleep cycle the following morning. They're often tired when they get up.

How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

The National Sleep Foundation reports that most adolescents -- between the ages of 10 and 18 -- need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep each night. The foundation offers the following pointers:

  • Enforce a regular sleep schedule when she's young and keep appropriate schedules as she grows older.
  • Talk with your teen about his own sleep/awake schedule and level of tiredness. Discuss how much time he spends in extracurricular activities and after-school jobs.

    Help him make adjustments to his commitments so he can get his sleep needs met and find himself awake and alive during the day.

    Sleep Solutions

    Sleep experts favor a school day that begins at 9:30 or 10 for teens. And researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that teens who start a bit later may get better grades.

    But is this research having any effect on school districts? In Minnesota, some school districts are experimenting with school starting times. Kyla Walhstrom, associate director of the Center for Applied Research in Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, has studied the logistics of a schedule shift. "Teachers are saying, 'This is a remarkable change. The attention that is being paid in my first-hour class is so vast, I can't get over the difference that one hour of sleep makes.'"

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