Increazzze your ZZZs

October 18, 2005|by LYDIA HADFIELD

Do you get enough sleep?

"No. Definitely not," answered Nicole Beller, 14.

Chances are you aren't getting enough sleep either. Recent sleep polls show that teenagers get an average of only six to seven hours of sleep per night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should get between 8 1/2 and 9 1/4 hours of sleep. This is a problem.

As you may know, lack of sleep can make it difficult to concentrate on that first period math class and make you feel droopy all day.

However, sleep deprivation can also lead to illness, car accidents, unhealthy eating habits, and even zits.

Why aren't teenagers sleeping?

Many teens have social or school schedules that lead to a later bed time. Katie Martin, 15, who sleeps for about five hours on school nights, is involved in lots of extracurricular activities and acting classes. When she gets home, there's still homework to be done, which leaves little time for sleep before her bus comes at 6:45 in the morning. Does this sound familiar?


In addition to busy schedules, there's another reason that teenagers stay up late and sleep in. Researchers say that during the teenage years a person's circadian rhythm, or body clock, lapses into a cycle that makes it difficult to fall asleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up earlier than 8 or 9 a.m. Needless to say, this schedule doesn't conform easily to the average high school start time.

What can you do?

One way to increase the zzz's is to reset your body's time clock.

"You can't just say, 'I'm going to bed three hours early'," said Carol O'Korn, lead sleep technician at the Washington Hospital Sleep Center in Hagerstown. "You have to gradually move the time back."

  • Earlier bedtime - The National Sleep Foundation suggests going to sleep fifteen minutes earlier each night until you are able to get the recommended amount of rest. Going to sleep at around the same time each night helps establish a new circadian rhythm.

  • Regular bedtime - Sleep experts also advise that teenagers try not to vary their weekend sleep schedule from their weekday schedule by more than a couple of hours. Establishing a bed time ritual you keep constant every night, like reading a book or taking a hot shower, also can help.

  • Naps - But it's hard for some teenagers to keep a constant schedule with school and homework and, oh yeah, a social life. In many cases, naps are the best solution for catching up on sleep. A 30- to 45-minute nap taken after school can refresh you before you tackle the night's homework.

The University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center advises not to nap too long, or too close to your (targeted) bed time; the plan may backfire and keep you awake later.

Help yourself to sleep

If you have trouble sleeping once you finally make it to bed, there are several things to consider.

1) Limit your caffeine intake in the evening

2) Don't have a big snack before bed

3) Avoid distractions you may have in your room such as a computer or T.V.

4) Exercise on a regular basis but no later than two hours before bed time

If you use your room for reasons other than sleeping, like doing homework, it is more likely you'll have a difficult time sleeping.

However, if you usually can't sleep, or, if you can't seem to ever stay awake, you should talk to your doctor.

Getting enough sleep is a matter of balance, whether it's managing your school activities so you can go to bed earlier or learning to nap when you can. Try a few strategies and see which works best for you.

Good luck, and if all else fails, you can always advocate later school start times.

For more information, go to and click on their teen link.

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