A later start benefits teens' health

Delayed sleep phase syndrome shifts circadian rhythms and sleep and wake times, making it more difficult for teens to get up early.

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Sleep Disorders

A later start benefits teens' health
A later start benefits teens' health

As schools around America come to a close for the summer vacation, some school officials believe their doors should open later for teenagers in the fall.

They, along with sleep professionals, recognize that adolescence brings about changes circadian rhythms and a shift in sleep and wake times. These changes make it difficult for teenagers to get enough sleep when reporting to school before 8:30 in the morning.

Although research suggests the average teen needs about nine and a quarter hours of sleep per night, only about 15% of teenagers report sleeping even eight and a half hours.

Sleep professionals call this shift to later sleep delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). Patients with DSPS prefer to go to bed later at night and sleep later into the morning. Adolescents are particularly affected by DSPS. In teenagers, this shift it is mostly related to the changes in hormones that they experience during these years.

Because of the shift in circadian rhythms, teenagers don't feel sleepy until about 11:00 at night or later. Extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs leave teens with less time to dedicate to sleep. Couple a lack of sleep with the age group's lack of experience in driving, teens can be a danger to others on the road.

The Minneapolis School District is just one of several districts that have shifted the morning bell to later in the morning. The district has already seen a decline in teen accidents and depression. National testing scores on the ACT have increased, along with overall enrollment and attendance.

For patients with DSPS, sleep professionals suggest:

  • Keep a regular bed time and wake schedule. Teenagers who are sleep deprived during the week want to "catch up" on the weekend by sleeping in. However, this pattern only worsens their overall sleep.
  • Avoid light producing technology at bedtime. This light can cause their natural melatonin to be inhibited. Conversely, bright light in the morning can help stimulate alertness.
  • Prescribe over-the-counter melatonin.The medication can be a safe alternative in helping promote sleep in struggling patients. The recommended dosage is 0.3 mg to 3 mg.

Sharon M. O'Brien, MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing clinician with an interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.

References

  1. Zee P. “Chapter 4: Circadian Rhythm Disorders." Sleep Medicine. By Christopher D. Fahey. New York: Cambridge Univeristy, 2008. 64-67. Print.
  2. Roth T, Dement W. "Sleep Medicine, Public Policy, and Public Health." Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. Ed. Meir H. Kryger. Fourth ed. Print.
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