Only a small percentage of American teens regularly meet their sleep needs. The reason their losing valuable shuteye isn’t quite as simple as sometimes portrayed. A front page article in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week blamed sleep loss on technology such as video games and gadgets. While this is assessment isn’t untrue, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Teens have a tendency to be night owls even though they need more sleep than adults. The AASM recommends a minimum of 9 hours of sleep nightly for teens and adolescents. Many schools require teens to wake up very early, sometimes even before their parents. It’s not uncommon to see high school athletes report to morning practice as early as 5 a.m.
Some teens may not be able to go to sleep early enough to get the recommended hours of sleep even if they wanted. Many teens’ circadian systems are incompatible with early morning schedules. An article in the latest issue of Chronobiology International shows evidence that teens are naturally wired to stay awake later especially in the spring and summer.
The study found sleep onset times were delayed when adolescents were exposed to natural light during the evening hours. As the days become longer teens are inclined to stay up later.
The authors compared self-reported bedtimes and sleep durations to the time of sunset. Teens slept went to sleep early and slept longer during shorter winter days. Researchers presume a lighting scheme to reduce teens’ exposure to evening sunlight may help them get to sleep early during longer days.
That alone may not be enough. Turning off the television and Xbox an hour before bedtime may help. Schools too need to make adjustments so more than 21 percent of teens get enough sleep. Pushing start times forward can make students happier, more productive and even keep them out of harm's way.