Weekend sleep-ins bad for teens

An amazing amount of research is being done on the subject of sleep -- especially among adolescents. One of the hardest things in the world, apparently, is to get teenagers into and out of bed on time. In an Australian study, a school-based programme of four 50-minute classes over four weeks gave two groups of students aged 15 to 17 advice about healthy sleep habits along with other input on personal well-being, including healthy eating and exercise. Those in the classes were compared with control groups who did not do the programme.

The programme taught students the benefits of minimising caffeine and alcohol intake, reducing stimulating activities at night, getting out of bed at a consistent time each morning (even on weekends) and getting exposure to bright light in the morning to help reset their body’s biological clock.

At the beginning of the study, no less than 95 per cent of all the students reported at least one type of sleep problem; 60 per cent said it took them more than 30 minutes to get to sleep; and 35 per cent said they felt very sleepy during the day. More than half (53 per cent) had less than eight hours sleep on school nights, and 78 per cent reported sleeping in more than two hours on weekend morning compared with weekdays. The last two problems coincided with delayed sleep timing for 36 per cent of the young people.

Did the talks on healthy sleep for the study group students make a difference? In the short term, yes; it reduced weekend sleeping in by 30 minutes on average. But that effect wore off after only six weeks. The researchers found that students were “not convinced about the benefits of regularising their sleep pattern, and enjoyed sleeping in too much to change their behaviour”.

This attitude is a major hurdle, says lead researcher Michael Gradisar of Flinders University, because sleeping in on the weekend delays the circadian rhythm, which can lead to late sleep onset on school nights. Gradisar is hoping that a revised programme dealing solely with sleep and including more interactive learning will have better results. ~ Science Daily, March 1 

On the other hand...some researchers have given up on the cause of getting teenagers to rise and shine and are finding reasons for them to stay in bed. They say adolescents’ brains are wired differently to adults’ and work better in the afternoon. Professor Russell Foster, chairman of Circadian Neuroscience at Brasenose College, Oxford, says that body clocks shift as children enter their teens and do reach the pre-teenage level again until around age 55.

On the strength of Prof Foster’s research, Dr Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton Community High School and a well-known innovator now has pupils starting school at 11 am. “We are making teenagers ratty by getting them up early,” he says. A study by the National Audit Office also found that university lectures were increasingly being shifted to the afternoon to give students more time in bed. ~ Daily Telegraph, March 8

And researchers in Japan have found that children who are allowed consistently to stay up past their bedtime watching television or playing on a computer are at risk of late-night sleeplessness for the rest of their lives. Exposure to artificial light at night confuses the child’s brain about when days start and end (circadian rhythm). Dr Jun Kohyama of Tokyo Medical and Dental University found that more than half of one-year-olds now go to bed after 10pm.

The number of kids under 11 admitted to hospitals in Britain for insomnia rose by 26 per cent over five years. ~ Times Online, March 1



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