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Technology, Caffeine Keeping Teens Awake

Many routinely get just 3 to 5 hours sleep per night, study shows,,,,

THURSDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) -- Just one in five teens is getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. The rest may be texting the night away with the help of highly-caffeinated energy drinks, according to new research.

And, it's not that teens don't need the sleep. One-third of teens polled reported falling asleep in school at least twice each day. Several students even confessed to falling asleep at the wheel while driving.

"We found that as these adolescents multitask into the night, they also caffeinate, and it affects their sleep dramatically," said the study's lead author, Christina Calamaro, an assistant professor of nursing at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The U.S. population as a whole has lost about one to two hours of nightly sleep during the past four decades, according to background information in the study. At the same time, there's been a twofold increase in the number of teens getting less than seven hours of sleep per night. But, teens may need even more sleep than adults. Some experts suggest that eight to nine hours a night is inadequate for most teens.

While sleep duration decreased, the amount of technology in adolescents' bedrooms increased. Almost all teens have at least one electronic device in their room -- TV, cell phone, computer, telephone or music device. The average sixth-grader has two of these devices in the bedroom, according to the study. By 12th grade, there are often four electronic devices in the bedroom.

"These technological devices activate the mind. It's like having a stressful work conversation just before getting into bed," explained Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

"I think teens definitely underestimate the effect on sleep these devices have. I think most adults underestimate it, too," he said.

The current study, published in the June issue of Pediatrics, recruited 100 teens from the Philadelphia area to assess their technology and caffeine use, as well as their sleeping habits.

The teens were between 12 and 18, with an average age of 15. Fifty-eight percent were female. Sixty-two percent were white, and 27 percent were black. The average household income was $51,800.

Two-thirds of the teens had a television in their bedroom, and nearly one-third had a computer. Ninety percent of the teens had their own cell phone, and 79 percent had a personal music device.

On average, teens said they used four devices after 9 p.m. More than 80 percent of the teens reported watching TV after 9 p.m., and one-third said they sent text messages after 9 p.m. Fifty-five percent were online after 9 p.m.

Fifteen percent of the youngsters said they only slept three to five hours per night, while 62 percent reported getting six to eight hours nightly. Just 20 percent slept 8 or more hours each night.

As sleep-deprived adults so often do, tired teens reached for caffeine to keep them awake. Only 27.5 percent of the teens drank less than 100 milligrams of caffeine daily, or about the equivalent of one espresso. Eleven percent drank the equivalent of more than four espressos daily. And, because many schools limit the sale of energy drinks, teens often got the bulk of their caffeine dose after 3 p.m., which Calamaro said could definitely disrupt sleep.

"Parents and teens need to recognize that energy drinks like Red Bull or Monster are not without side effects," said Calamaro.

Both Calamaro and Pletcher recommended that parents limit technological devices in the bedroom. Don't, for example, allow your child to sleep with his or her cell phone next to the bed. Get it out of the bedroom instead.

Pletcher said that teens need to practice good sleep hygiene, just like adults, and be encouraged to have a regular routine around bedtime. "Shut down the computer and cell phone well before bedtime and do activities that are calming before bed," he recommended.

More information

For more on teens and sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

SOURCES: Christina Calamaro, Ph.D., assistant professor, nursing, Drexel University, Philadelphia; Jonathan Pletcher, M.D., adolescent medicine specialist, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; June 2009 Pediatrics

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