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The Science of Sleep: A Primer for Teens

The Science of Sleep: A Primer for Teens

Parents of teens know that setting a bedtime for adolescents isn’t as easy as sending them off to their room with their teddy bear and a cup of water. Circle of Moms member Nelly P.'s four kids, who range in age from 10 to 16, always seems to want to go to bed "later."

There are countless distractions, and sometimes fairly valid reasons for your teen to hoot alongside the night owls. But for teens, sleep is vital to good health, so we wrote this primer to explain the science of sleep to your teen. Share this article with your (non)Sleeping Beauty or Beau, and work together to find a schedule that leaves your teen—and the rest of your family—feeling rested, healthy, and ready to go each morning.

Teens Need More Sleep Than They Realize

You may think that your occasional restless night or your shift from a good eight hours a night to lucky-if-you-get-six isn’t much to worry about, since you’re still managing to live okay, albeit a tad tired. Teens should be getting eight and a half to nine hours a night, and many don’t. That’s for lots of reasons—whether it’s because of increased work, digital distractions, Conan and Colbert, earlier school start times (which often aren’t in sync with teens’ bodies), or any number of other reasons. But the downsides of sleep deprivation are monumental, and not only when it comes to learning. A lack of sleep also puts you at risk for increased stress, drowsy driving, poor performance in school (and sports and your social life), mood issues, and many other problems.
And that’s not even mentioning that lack of sleep has a profound effect on the way you eat: The sleepier you are, the more you crave sugar and carbohydrates to boost your energy. While that sudden rush of sugar causes a temporary spike of energy, you crash hard when it wears off. And what do you do in return? Seek more sugar for more energy. The vicious cycle continues—with the added effect of storing all those excess calories and, eventually, busting seams in your jeans.


A Good Night’s Sleep

Now, what exactly is a good night’s sleep? While the length of sleep is important, equally vital is getting through the sleep cycle several times. The cycle is comprised of the following stages, each getting progressively deeper:


    • Sleep latency: the time it takes for you to fall asleep from the time you go to bed.


    • Stages 1 and 2: light sleep. Drowsiness as your brain is just getting into sleep. In stage 2, your brain waves start to slow down noticeably.


    • Stage 3: deeper sleep, which you get less of as you age because of frequent awakenings. This stage helps you awake refreshed when you get to complete the sleep cycle. If you get awakened from slow-wave sleep (stage 3), you may feel groggy and disoriented, but you can wake up raring to go when stage 1 or 2 is interrupted. That is partly why “power naps” or catnaps sometimes help if they’re kept to, say, a half hour or less, as you don’t have time to get into that deep, stage 3 sleep. Stage 3 sleep is the deep sleep during which you sleepwalk and sleep talk.


  • REM (rapid eye movement): the deepest sleep. Your eyes are moving fast, but the rest of your body is paralyzed. It’s the stage where great dreams and horrible nightmares occur.

Each complete cycle (stage 1 through REM) lasts about 90 to 110 minutes, and you go through four to six of them a night. But it’s important that you achieve REM sleep to feel really rested.

(For more questions about teen health, tune in to the Live UStream Chat with Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen on June 7th, 2011 at 7 pm EST.)

 A New York Times #1 best-selling author and host of The Dr. Oz Show, Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. is also professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University and the director of the Heart Institute. For more from Dr. Oz, check out You: Raising Your Child and You: Having a Baby, both co-authored with Michael F. Roizen, M.D.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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