This may not come as a news flash, but strong evidence supports the notion that teenagers are different from the rest of us. Cutting-edge research, done right here in Rhode Island, reveals one of the reasons they seem to live in another world: During the teen years, the body clock that rules sleep ticks on a different schedule.
Mary A. Carskadon, PhD, director of sleep and chronobiology research at Bradley Hospital, is one of the nation's leading sleep research experts. Carskadon's meticulous research on the sleep habits of young people shows that as children enter their teens, a natural bedtime comes later and later. Trouble is, many school districts start classes as early as 7 a.m., which means some students have to be up by 5 to catch a 6 o'clock bus. A recent survey of 3,000 Providence high school students showed that 85 percent of them were getting inadequate sleep and were not alert when the first-period bell rang. Factor in after-school jobs, activities and their tendency to stay up late, and the result is a population of sleep-deprived students.
Carskadon hopes school administrators will soon wake up to the fact that early school days prevent students from being at their best: "We need to do more measured research to convince school districts to change their ways. Our work shows that teens can't adjust to schedules that go against what their body is telling them."
The problem is more serious than just falling asleep in class. Teens also fall asleep at the wheel. Car crashes are the second leading cause of death in young people.
Find ways to get more sleep. Parents need to be understanding of the sleep-in syndrome, but must also enforce some rules about rest. "There is great evidence that changing lighting can actually reset your internal clock," says Carskadon. Keep lights and activities low in the evening hours to help settle down teenagers. If parents are serious about how their children's sleep habits are affecting them, they can enroll them in one of Carskadon's upcoming studies for 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds.
Call 401-421-9440 for information on becoming a sleep subject.
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