Sleep Patterns of Teenagers

There’s more to the complaints of teenagers than adults often believe. They cannot go to sleep when they’re not sleepy and neither can there parents. So is it any wonder that too many of them are falling asleep at their desk in class the next day. While a few teachers and educators are trying to start a new trend to address the problem; they want to delay school when in the teen years an hour later.

Teenagers sleeping through their morning classes may need more understanding and less reprimanding. Parents are now alarmed at the low grades, and the overall problems of getting teenagers to school on time and teachers are alarmed the lack of concentration and how to keep them awake. During this time they need at least two more hours of sleep, new studies show.

How can this teen age circadian shift be managed? 

First, before solutions can be offered, causes must be found. Investigating teachers and parents must get to the reasons teenaged students so tired in the morning? Sleep scientists say they’re not getting enough sleep because their circadian sleep rhythms are shifting and they’re in school in early mornings when their bodies tell them they should be still at home asleep. Teachers and parents must learn about the sleep patterns and how, with the onset of puberty, they shift. 

The problem of lack of sleep is real and it’s not always the teenagers fault. They can’t sleep if they’re not sleepy and lowering their bedtime to around eleven and allowing them to sleep an hour later may be the answer. Yes, of course, this interferes with adult schedules and those parents who must get to work at seven or eight. Those problems will be worked out and they aren’t as important as seeing these kids get a good education by being alert when they go to class. 

The accuracy of circadian shift is not one hundred positive, but one concerned educator, Mary Carskadon, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Development at Brown University School of Medicine and director of sleep and chrono-biology research at E.P. Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, is doing her best to find out how accurate those assumptions are. She has reason to believe that puberty and adolescent changes the normal sleep wake cycles. Six grade girls were tested in 1993 and not all of the 275 showed definite delaying of melatonin, a natural sleep initiating hormone, but the more mature girls showed a lack. The girls who were slower in maturing showed no signs of early puberty, those maturing earlier did. 

Who is listening?  

The circadian rhythm is human clockwork where sleep is concerned. It has nothing to do with the natural rhythm of locusts that sleep for seventeen years and wake up and sing out loud and clear, in unison, we’re back; it’s a certain amount of time out of each twenty four hours that’s been set aside by nature for rest and maintenance of the body. And this is different in children and in adult and it’s different in those in between these two groups. Adolescents falling asleep at their desks, inattentiveness, lack of concentration and crankiness brought about by lack of sleep, results in poorer grades.

Normally, the first sleep is light and is non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and about ninety minutes into sleep, the sleep is deeper and dreaming begins. A normal eight to nine hour sleep cycle consists of several light sleep and deep sleep intervals. Serious sleep disorders occur when these normal sleep patterns are interrupted. Carskadon sets none of her findings in concrete, but she’s not giving up. She wonders if other sources of light, such as computer screens, etc., might not be tampering with the adolescents normal sleep patterns. 

The city of Minneapolis, for one, is listening.  According to the online site where this information came from, they have scaled back their start of classes for their seven high schools to 8:40 A.M. from 7:15. It seems to work. Teachers have reported fewer sleepy students and better attention and more are attentive and doing better work in class.

What can parents do?

What can parents do? See that your teenagers don’t overload themselves with more than they can physically and mentally do. Urge them to cut out some of their extra-curricular activities and select only the one or two that are meaningful to them. Try to see that they get enough sleep. And talk to the authorities about the early school hours. If enough believe this is a solution, it could become a national trend.