Sleep and Teens - Biology and Behavior

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is at odds with their biological and social lives. It’s more surprising to find teens in the U.S. today that get enough sleep than those who get too little.

How does daytime sleepiness affect adolescents?

I’ve written in the past about the “glut of wakefulness” in teenagers and its impact on their lives (Carskadon, 2004). Teens may be driven to things that can wake them up simply because they’ll fall asleep if they do not. So we see caffeine, late-night Internet, chat rooms, IM’ing, cramming in activity after activity as a means to keep awake and necessitating more of the same to stay awake in the face of declining sleep. This is another way to think of the negative spiral of too little sleep.

These patterns can disguise the extent of their sleep deficit for many teens and their parents as well. On the other hand, we do see the signs emerge in many young people, each may be vulnerable in different ways. Thus, we see the teenager who falls asleep driving home late at night; in another teen, the problem emerges with titanic struggles to wake up in the morning, often failing and resulting in late or missed school; another may simply feel sad and moody and blue, lacking initiative or motivation; in other teens, grades begin to suffer as the teen struggles to keep awake during class and while doing homework; another may turn to heavier drugs to get some positive and arousing sensations; many just struggle along in a kind of haze, never knowing how to feel or do their best.

Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., received a doctorate with distinction in Neuro- and Biobehavioral Sciences with a specialty in sleep research from Stanford University. She is currently Director of Chronobiology/Sleep Research at the E.P. Bradley Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I. Her research has raised public health issues regarding the consequences of insufficient sleep in adolescents as well as concerns about early starting times of schools.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of sleepmatters