How Much Sleep do we Need?

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Why Aren’t Teens Getting Enough Sleep?

Until recently, teens were often given a bad rap for staying up late, oversleeping for school, and falling asleep in class. But recent studies show that adolescent sleep patterns actually differ from those of adults or kids.

These studies show that during the teen years, the body’s circadian rhythm (sort of like an internal biological clock) is temporarily reset, telling a person to fall asleep later and wake up later. This change in the circadian rhythm seems to be due to the fact that the brain hormone melatonin is produced later at night for teens than it is for kids and adults. This can make it harder for teens to fall asleep early.

These changes in the body’s circadian rhythm coincide with a time when we’re busier than ever. For most teens, the pressure to do well in school is more intense than when they were kids, and it’s harder to get by without studying hard. And teens also have other time demands — everything from sports and other extracurricular activities to fitting in a part-time job to save money for college.

Early start times in some schools may also play a role in this sleep deficit. Teens who fall asleep after midnight may still have to get up early for school, meaning that they may only squeeze in 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night. A couple hours of missed sleep a night may not seem like a big deal, but can create a noticeable sleep deficit over time.

Why Is Sleep Important?

This sleep deficit impacts everything from a person’s ability to pay attention in class to his or her mood. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America poll, more than one quarter of high school students fall asleep in class, and experts have been able to tie lost sleep to poorer grades. Lack of sleep also damages teens’ ability to do their best in athletics.

Slowed responses and concentration from lack of sleep don’t just affect school or sports performance, though. More than half of teens surveyed reported that they have driven a car drowsy over the past year and 15% of students in the 10th to 12th grades drive drowsy at least once a week. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration estimates that more than 100,000 accidents, 40,000 injuries, and 1,500 people are killed in the U.S. every year in crashes caused by drivers who are simply tired. Young people under the age of 25 are far more likely to be involved in drowsy driving crashes.

Lack of sleep has also been linked to emotional troubles, such as feelings of sadness and depression. Sleep helps keep us physically healthy, too, by slowing our body’s systems enough to re-energize us after everyday activities.

How Do I Know if I’m Getting Enough?

Even if you think you’re getting enough sleep, you may not be. Here are some of the signs that you may need more sleep:

  • difficulty waking up in the morning

  • inability to concentrate

  • falling asleep during classes

  • feelings of moodiness and even depression

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