Children too wired for sleep
Article from: Herald Sun:
Saturday 1st September 2007 by Dina Rosendorff
TECH-savvy teens are getting more screen time than slumber time, losing out on half an hour's sleep a night, research has found.
A study that looked at the sleeping patterns of 28,000 children and teenagers confirmed young people were sleeping much less in the past two decades on school days.
And they are building up a chronic "debt" that has to be slept off on weekends.
The increased prevalence of technology in the bedroom, such as TV, computers, MP3s and video games, is behind the sleep shortage, researchers believe.
Sleep researcher Prof Timothy Olds, from the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, compared two surveys of Adelaide children aged 10-13 to analyse sleep changes between 1985 and 2004.
"The decline was striking," Prof Olds said.
"There was a 30-minute drop in sleep on school days, which is 1 1/2 minutes less each year -- very, very marked."
Prof Olds said a drop had been observed in adults over the past 100 years, mainly due to the advent of electric lights, caffeine and more recent technological advances.
But only one study, from Switzerland, had ever analysed this in younger people.
The data showed kids' wake-up time had barely changed -- almost all rise within 15 minutes of 7am.
But they were going to bed later as they watched TV, played video games and surfed the net.
Young people were watching late shows more than ever, including live broadcasts of international sport such as the US Open or Tour de France, now possible with 24-hour global TV.
Older teens also seemed to have more homework pressures, more part-time work on weekdays and were socialising more, Prof Olds said.
And a lack of sleep on weekdays seemed to be fuelling bigger sleep-ins on weekends, creating "lopsided" patterns which researchers said caused havoc with circadian rhythms, or body clock.
"By the time kids get to 17-18 they're getting eight hours' sleep on school days and 10 hours on non-school days, when they should really be getting something in between nightly," Prof Olds said.
"This pattern of chronic sleep deprivation and catch-up suggests that they probably are underslept overall, which is not good."
The findings, to be presented at an international sleep conference in Cairns, also have public policy implications.
Experts said moves to start school earlier would be "disastrous" for already sleep-deprived students.
Like many young people, Tom Glue, 13, has a TV, a DVD player and an iPod in his bedroom.
The teenager, who has had a TV in his room since grade 4, said he listened to his iPod or watched TV every night before going to bed.
"It helps me get to sleep sometimes but I'm pretty good at turning it off when I feel tired, and I feel fine during the day," Tom said.
He said he went to bed between 10.30 and 11pm on a school night, but slept in until 8am.
"I should get up earlier but I'm pretty quick at getting ready," Tom said.
Prof Olds said sleep needed to be treated as seriously as physical activity and nutrition, with the same official national guidelines.
"Currently, it's the forgotten eight hours of the day," he said.
"But sleep hygiene is really important. Kids need a regular routine and parents should be aware when their kids are not getting enough and put solid habits in place."