Kids Health: Adequate sleep for adolescents

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's no secret that most adults don't get enough sleep, but few age groups run a sleep deficit as high as adolescents.

Between school, sports, friends and outside interests, pre-teens and teens have a lot going on. But one thing they're not getting is sleep.

"Teenagers need 9 hours of sleep - 9 hours!" said pychologist, Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard.

However, a 2006 study showed that two-thirds of middle-schoolers and nearly 90% of high schoolers fall short.

Dr. Dahlsgaard of Children's Hospital says it's terrible for their bodies, but especially for their minds.

"Anxiety, mood disorders, suicide ideation, suicide attempts, irritability," she said.

It also hampers memory, learning, and decision-making - crucial skills for success in school, and adulthood.

Dr. Dahlsgaard says we shouldn't always blame teens for their behavior, or lack of sleep. She says their brains are undergoing a big time shift.

Production of melatonin, the body's sleep chemical, shifts forward from about 9 to 11 at night. Likewise, it shuts off much later.

"Their brains do not get sleepy before about 11 p.m., and their brains really have a hard time waking up before 8 a.m.," said Dr. Dahlsgaard.

The big glitch is that most schools start earlier. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on schools to delay school starts till 8:30 or later.

So far, only 15% of schools do that. But their results are outstanding.

"Teens are less moody, less anxious, less prone to depression," said Dr. Dahlsgaard.

And in a Virginia study, teen car crashes dropped dramatically.

Dr. Dahlsgaard says parents can help sons and daughters get more sleep now with a few family rules.

"No TVs in the bedroom, a family-wide prohibition on electronic devices after a certain time, no letting teens sleep in too late on the weekend," she suggests.

And no caffeine 10 hours before bedtime. Teens think they need it to do their homework, however, Dr. Dahlsgaard says it won't make them nearly as alert as a good night's sleep.

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