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When worlds collide: Adolescent need for sleep versus societal demands

Carskadon, Mary APhi Delta Kappan; Bloomington Vol. 80, Iss. 5,  (Jan 1999): 348-353.

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Headnote

Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners, Ms. Carskadon points out.

OUR UNDERSTANDING of the development of sleep patterns in adolescents has advanced considerably in the last 20 years. Along the way, theoretical models of the processes underlying the biological regulation of sleep have improved, and certain assumptions and dogmas have been examined and found wanting. Although the full characterization of teen sleep regulation remains to be accomplished, our current understanding poses a number of challenges for the education system.

The early 1970s found us with a growing awareness that sleep patterns change fundamentally at the transition to adolescence - a phenomenon that is widely acknowledged today. Survey studies clearly showed then and continue to show that the reported timing of sleep begins to shift in early adolescence, with bedtime and rising time both occurring at later hours. This delayed sleep pattern is particularly evident on nonschool nights and days, though the evening delay is obvious on school nights as well. Associated with the delay of sleep is a decline in the amount of sleep obtained and an increase in the discrepancy between school nights and weekend nights. Although the nonschool-night "oversleeping" was acknowledged as recovery from insufficient sleep during the school week, we initially assumed that the amount of sleep required declines with age. This was axiomatic: the older you are, the less sleep you need.

Assessing the Need for Sleep In the Second Decade

A longitudinal study begun in 1976 at the Stanford University summer sleep camp attempted to examine this axiom.' Boys and girls enrolled in this research project at ages 10, 11, or 12 and came...