"As adolescents move through middle school and high school, some adults expect them to automatically make mature decisions, as if these external events [puberty] magically grant adolescents adult-like thinking skills.  This is a recipe for future conflict; adults become disappointed and teenagers feel misunderstood..."  To read more on the article by Terence & Eileen Houlihan, please click here

Terence Houlihan speaking to high school teachers in Akron, OH, 2013.

Wednesday
Apr042012

Teens and Sleep

by Terence J. Houlihan, MS Ed, CRS

America's teens are chronically sleep-deprived. There I said it.  It's out. 

I attended a seminar back in the spring of 2011 at North Shore University Hospital to listen to Dr. Judith Owens, MD, the Director of Sleep Medicine at Children's National Medical Center and professor at Brown University.  I had heard of Dr. Owens in the past, as she had been part of a national movement to encourage school leaders to move back school start times.  Before taking my seat amidst the other school counselors, principals, teachers, etc., I was well aware the latest research indicated that the average adolecent requires just over 9 hours of sleep per night, but I was not prepared for the eye-opening data about what exactly is impacting teens' sleep and how their lack of sleep is impacting them.

In my years of listening to students and parents fret over bedtimes, lack of sleep, bedtime activities, wake-up procedures, etc., I've heard the gambit of horror stories and the stories that double-me-over-in-laughter.  In the three hours of listening to Dr. Owens, every story made sense.

America's teens are chronically sleep-deprived. I said that, didn't I?  If you're a parent or educator with sleepy teens, you probably already know that.  Yelling at them to wake up or go to bed earlier doesn't work.  Most of us, adults, children, teens, etc., don't respond to yelling, even if we're awake.

Recent studies were done involving PET scans of the brains of adolescents diagnosed with ADHD and those of other adolescents (with normal cognitive functioning) who were sleep deprived for two weeks revealed unexpected data: their brains looked alike.  One of the reasons why kids and teens with ADHD struggle with school is because their executive functioning skillset is impacted: they struggle with organization, time management, planning, motivations, etc.  This functioning has been identified as being located in the pre-frontal cortex: just behind the forehead.  Neuroscientists point to this part of the brain as being the last to develop...that's why adults are better at multi-tasking and managing their time.  But, when adolescents are losing sleep night after night, they start to lose their capacity to engage in those executive skills.  

What's even more startling is that there's new research to suggest that we never really do make up on lost sleep.  There's no magic "sleep bank" that gets filled on the weekends that we can deduct from throughout the week.  And teens are notorious for sleeping late on the weekends...and parents mostly have no problem allowing them to do so.

We'll talk more about how this is a recipe for more issues...

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