School start times and screen delays exacerbate sleep deprivation in American teens


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As the school year begins across the United States, parents and caregivers are once again confronting the age-old struggle of children reeling from bed in the morning. For parents of tweens and teens, this can be a particular challenge.

Sometimes this is attributed to laziness in teenagers. But the main reason why a healthy person can’t wake up normally without warning is because they don’t get the sleep their brain and body need.

This is because studies show it Teenagers need more than nine hours of sleep per day To be in good health, both physically and mentally.

But the chance that you know a teen who gets enough sleep is rather slim. in the United States, Less than 30% of high school students—or those in grades nine through 12—sleeping the recommended amount, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among middle school students in grades 6-8, 60% do not get enough sleep at night.

However, my lab research indicates that a much higher percentage of teens sleep very little.

I Professor of Biology was Studying sleep and circadian rhythms for over 30 years. For the past seven years, my University of Washington lab has researched sleep in Seattle-area teens. Our research finds that, as in other regions of the United States, High school students In Seattle, they don’t get the sleep they need. Our study objectively measured sleep in 182 high school students and seniors and found that only two slept at least nine hours a night during school days.

Our studies and those of others suggest that three important factors underlie the sleep deprivation epidemic: Physiological regulation of sleep that delays sleep in adolescents and is not in line with early sleep. School start timesa Lack of morning exposure to daylight And the Excessive exposure to light and bright electric screens late in the evening.

Adolescent sleep biology

It governs the time when people go to bed, sleep and wake up Two major factors in the brain. The first is the so-called “wakefulness tracker,” a physiological timer that increases our need for sleep the longer we stay awake. This is partly the result of a buildup of chemical signals from neurons, like adenosine.

Adenosine builds up in the brain when we are awake, leading to increased sleepiness as the day approaches. For example, if a person wakes up at 7 a.m., these chemical signals will build up throughout the day until levels are high enough for a person to fall asleep, usually in the late evening.

The second factor driving the sleep/wake cycle is a 24-hour biological clock that tells our brain what times of day we should be awake and when we should sleep. This biological clock is located in an area of ​​the brain called the hypothalamus. The clock is made up of neurons that coordinate the areas of the brain that regulate sleep and wakefulness for a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle.

These two regulators operate relatively independently of each other. But under typical circumstances, it’s so formatted that a person with access to an electric-powered light sleeps late in the evening – between about 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., and wakes up early in the morning, about 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Adequate sleep is key to teen health, but there are many things that prevent teens from getting enough of it.

So why do teens often like to go to bed later and get up later than their parents?

It turns out that during adolescence, both the wakefulness tracker and the circadian clock conspire to delay the timing of sleep. First, teens can be up late hours before the wakefulness tracker Makes them feel sleepy enough to sleep.

secondly , Delayed biological clock for adolescents Because in some cases it seems to work at a slower pace, and because it responds differently to light signals that reset the clock daily. This combination results in a sleep cycle that operates two hours after falling asleep in older adults – if older adults feel sleep cues around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., it won’t happen until midnight or later in their teens.

How do school start times contribute?

To help find more sleep for teens, measure some School districts across the country have taken Delaying the school start date for middle and high schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this Schools for this age group should not start before 8:30 am. However the majority of High schools in the United States start at 8 a.m. or earlier.

Based on the recommendation of sleep experts, Seattle School District, starting 2016-2017 school yearMiddle and high school late School start times About an hour, from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. In a study our team conducted after the district enacted the plan, we found that Students got 34 minutes of sleep each dayA big win by sleep medicine standards. Additionally, student attendance and punctuality improved, and average grades increased by 4.5%.

Despite the abundance of research evidence and advice from almost all sleep experts in the country, most Education Directorates Still stuck in school start times promote chronic sleep deprivation in teens. Early school starts are beyond that Exacerbated by daylight saving time—When setting the clock one hour earlier in the spring. This time shift – one It could become permanent in the US in 2023Artificially exposes teens to dark mornings, which worsens and delays their natural sleep.

Teaching healthy sleep habits to teens

Regardless of their school start times, children also need to learn the importance of healthy habits that promote adequate sleep.

Exposure to bright daylight, especially during the morning, causes us to push biological clock to an earlier time. This in turn will promote an earlier and more natural sleep Early in the morning time to wake up.

By contrast, the light in the evening – including the light from screens – stimulates the brain significantly. It inhibits the production of natural signals such as melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain At nightfall and in response to darkness. But when these signals are blocked by artificial light in the evening, our biological clocks are delayed, promoting a later bedtime and a later morning wake-up time. And so begins the cycle of having to throw a sleeping teen yawning out of bed to school again.

However, few schools teach the importance of a good daily routine and bedtime timing, and parents and teens do not fully appreciate its importance. Chronic sleep deprivation It disrupts every physiological process in the body and is constantly associated with diseases, including depression and anxietyAnd the obesity And the addictive behavior.

On the contrary, it is enough Sleeps Not only helps reduce physical disease and improvement Psychological healthbut it has also been proven to be so Essential for optimal physical and mental performance.

New video explains the science behind sleeping teens

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