Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sleep in teens

A number of new behaviours emerge during the adolescent years that can be explained as a result of brain changes. Although these new behaviours can often irritate and frustrate parents, they are completely normal in the context of teenage brain development. 
One of the significant changes is related to sleep pattern alterations. Sleep patterns change during adolescence because the brain’s circadian system (biological clock) changes. This change occurs as a result of a complex dynamic interaction between genetically determined brain development and the impact of the environment. During the teen years the usual childhood pattern of 'getting up early and going to bed early' changes, to a 'go to bed late and get up late' pattern. This natural change in circadian rhythm is accentuated by the teen environment. Teens are often awash in bright lights late at night, electronic and social stimulation that keep them active into the wee hours, and weekend gatherings that push well into early morning. These factors all converge to set a new go-to-sleep-late and wake-up-late cycle.

Teenagers stay up much later than younger children do, yet are still forced to wake up early on school days, their total sleep time is shorter on school days than on weekends, and this disrupts the rhythm of sleep. Teens need about 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep every night, more than pre-teens need. Since they don’t get anywhere near this amount during the week, many teenagers try to catch up on lost sleep on weekends, which typically annoys their parents. It is important to remember that teens sleep late on weekends because they are sleep deprived. They have created a huge sleep debt during the week and are paying it off on the weekend.

Sleep deprivation in adolescents can negatively affect the control of behavior, emotion and attention, and is a significant impediment to learning, attainment of social competence, concentration, focus and quality of life. School schedules are not based on the sleep/wake patterns of teenagers. Students in early morning classes report being less alert, more weary, and having to expend greater effort to pay attention. With all this sleep deprivation no wonder teens are late for class, sleepy at school, reluctant to be involved in extracurricular activities and cranky. And no wonder many parents find their teenagers to be a royal pain in the mornings!

Decreasing the amount of stimulating activities late at night (TV, phone, internet) is one way to recover lost sleep hours. Many of the social developments that might help correct the problem of adolescent sleep deprivation involve big social policy changes. These include: restructuring school curriculums and policy, to start school later and end school later, and creating a broader awareness of sleep deprivation among parents, teachers and physicians.

Changes in the brain during adolescence are just as important as bodily changes. Teens need their sleep, not only because it is part of their biological makeup, but because it benefits their social and academic performance, as well as their mental health So, instead of fighting with teens in the morning, allow them sleep in, give them a big hug with a good breakfast, and let them start school at 10 a.m.

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