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Why sleep at night? Isn’t that what school’s for?

Submitted by on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 No Comment

Multitasking ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Particularly for this generation of teens, which learned the art of the overload practically from the cradle.

Take a few electronic gizmos – say, a computer and a cell phone – and toss them into the teen’s room. Add an energy drink or favorite coffee.

The result: A kid’s who’s face down in the history book by mid-morning.

Used to be only losers fell asleep in class. Now it seems the cool kids are doing it, too. At least, a third of them are, according to a new study published Tuesday in Pediatrics.

And those who resorted to caffeine to ward off Mr. Sand Man largely didn’t stop themselves from dozing during the day: among the class nappers in the study, 76 percent reported having used caffeine.

“Despite the drive to sleep, adolescents use multiple forms of technology and consume caffeinated beverages to stay awake later into the night,” the study showed.

Researchers believe teens need about nine hours’ sleep a night, though typically they doze about seven. The number of teens sleeping less than seven hours a night has increased two-fold in the past four decades.

Some in the study -  which consisted of 100 people ages 12 to 18 years in the Philadelphia area – reported trying to get by on as little as three to five hours a night. That’s like living on a college finals week schedule, except doing it all the time.

Television was the most-used electronic distraction, with 82 percent of the teens watching TV after 9 p.m. Some watched as many as eight hours. Eight hours? It boggles the mind. That’s still less than the outlier for text messaging, which was 12 hours. Wonder if homework was anywhere in the mix.

Teens had the electronic toys regardless of family incomes. Except for televisions, which were less likely to show up in the rooms of teens from better-off families. And the more teens bounced back and forth among the toys, the less likely they were to get enough sleep.

“One subject in particular, who slept less than five hours each night, reported falling asleep on average eight times during a school day.” Presumedly the bell signaling class changes acted as an alarm clock.

Researchers theorize that there’s more than the mental activity keeping teens awake at night. It could be that the light from the screens themselves keep the body from producing the melatonin needed to summon sleep. Because TV is viewed from further away, its impact is less than in-your-face phones and computers.

It’s sobering stuff as well for parents of kids below the age of the group studied – the generation toting Nintendo DS around when they’re 5 and demanding cell phones in grade school.

Turns out the bedtime battles aren’t over once the baby sleeps through the night. They’re just beginning.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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