Sleep-Deprived Teens Pose Safety Hazard

Half have driven while drowsy, survey finds

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- An alarming number of adolescents are nodding off in class, driving while drowsy and falling asleep over their homework, all because they aren't getting enough zzzs, a new survey shows.

"Only 20 percent of children are getting optimal sleep, and nearly half are getting insufficient sleep," said Christopher Drake, a clinical psychologist with the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Center in Detroit and a member of the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). "This is affecting all areas of their life."

"Clearly, there can be an impact on all areas of functioning," Drake continued. "Kids who are getting insufficient sleep are more likely to feel depressed, more likely to get poorer grades and be impaired while driving. This is a major, major serious area of concern."

The revelations come courtesy of the annual Sleep in America poll released Tuesday by the National Sleep Foundation. The poll is part of the NSF's ninth annual National Sleep Awareness Week campaign, held March 27 through April 2, 2006. The campaign coincides with the return to Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

"It's a trend that we're beginning to recognize as real, though we have suspected it for a while," said Dr. Francisco Perez-Guerra, a professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M University's Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of their Scott & White Sleep Disorders Center in College Station.

"This is the first poll to look at it, so I think we are beginning to learn what is happening out there and what we can do," said Perez-Guerra, who is also a member of the NSF's board of directors.

The survey, which includes data on more than 1,600 caregivers and, separately, their adolescent children, also found:

  • At least once a week, 28 percent of high-schoolers fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall sleep while doing homework and 14 percent get to school late or miss school because they overslept.
  • During the past year, 51 percent of adolescents have driven while drowsy. Some 15 percent of drivers in grades 10 to 12 drive drowsy at least once a week.
  • More than one quarter (28 percent) of adolescents say they're too fatigued to exercise.
  • Most parents (90 percent) thought their kids were getting enough sleep time.
  • Adolescents who get insufficient sleep are more likely to get lower grades. Eighty percent of adolescents who reported getting an optimal amount of sleep also said they got As and Bs in school.
  • Among adolescents who reported being unhappy, tense and nervous, 73 percent felt they didn't get enough sleep, while 59 percent reported being excessively sleepy during the day.
  • As adolescents get older, they get less sleep. Sixth graders reported sleeping an average of 8.4 hours on school nights, while kids in grade 12 reported just 6.9 hours, two hours less than recommended.
  • Only 41 percent of respondents said they got a good night's sleep every, or most, nights. Ten percent reported rarely or never getting a good night's sleep.
  • Boys and girls had similar sleep patterns. African-American adolescents reported getting 7.2 hours of sleep on school nights, compared with 7.6 hours reported by Hispanic adolescents, 7.4 hours by other minorities and 7.7 hours by White adolescents.
  • Three-quarters of respondents said they had at least one caffeinated beverage each day, while 31 percent said they had two or more such drinks. Caffeine can affect sleep.
  • Rather than engaging in relaxing activities during the hour before bedtime, 76 percent of adolescents reported watching television, 44 percent said they played on the Internet and 40 percent talked on the phone. "Electronics are invading the bedroom," Perez-Guerra said. And this can also interfere with sleep.
  • Almost all adolescents (97 percent) have at least one electronic item in their bedroom, the number increasing with age. Adolescents with four or more such items in their bedrooms are less likely to get sufficient sleep and almost twice as likely to fall asleep in school or while doing homework.

Much of the problem lies not with teens but with society. Adolescents naturally feel more alert later at night and wake up later in the morning. More than half (54 percent) of high-school seniors go to bed at 11 p.m. or later. Yet those same adolescents have to wake up at around 6:30 in order to get to school.

"It is the natural tendency of adolescent to go to bed later because of their body clock," confirmed Perez-Guerra. "There is some bias."

But apart from asking schools to start later (which some states have done), what can be done?

"We need to tell parents to be alert and, just like they ask about drugs, they can ask about sleep," Perez-Guerra said. "They need to learn that an adolescent should be able to get out of bed without much prodding."

"There are a lot of things that parents can do to help teens get better sleep," Drake added. "One is to get rid of the computer, get rid of the Internet, get rid of the television. It's important to get those things out of the bedroom, as well as telling kids not to drink caffeine after 12 noon. It's also important to keep a regular schedule on weekdays and weekends, allowing for at least 9 hours in bed at night."

More information

For more on the poll and on sleep strategies, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

SOURCES: Christopher Drake, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Center, Detroit, and member, board of directors, National Sleep Foundation; Francisco Perez-Guerra, M.D., professor, internal medicine, Health Science Center College of Medicine and director, Scott & White Sleep Disorders Center, Texas A&M University, College Station; March 28, 2006, National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America

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