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19 April 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Body > Puberty

Late nights and laziness

Sleepy teenager
A sleepy teen

Sleep patterns go crazy during your teenage years. Many teens have the energy to play computer games until late at night but can't find the energy to get out of bed in time for school. This may be more than just laziness and bad behaviour.

New research suggests that the hormonal upheaval of puberty could be causing adolescents to love a lie-in, but loathe an early night. One thing is for certain - sleep is crucial for teenagers because it is while they are snoozing that they release a hormone that is essential for their growth spurt. They need more sleep than both children and adults, but they get less than either.

Time-keeping problems

Minds and bodies do not operate in the same way throughout the day. A timing mechanism in the brain regulates bodily functions over a 24-hour period. At night, the heart rate falls, blood pressure is lowered and urine ceases to be produced. When the sun rises, the body begins to wake up.

 
teenagers are being kept awake by their bodies

One important change that occurs at night time is increased levels of the 'darkness hormone' melatonin, which helps us to fall asleep. Most adults start to produce melatonin at about 10pm. When teenagers were studied in a sleep laboratory, researchers discovered that they only began to produce the hormone at 1am.

This delay in melatonin production might be caused by the behaviour of teenagers. When they stay up late, they often play computer games or watch television. This stimulates the brain and exposes the teenagers to bright lights which could cause the later release of melatonin.

On the other hand, the hormonal upheaval of puberty could be pushing the melatonin release back, in which case teenagers are being kept awake by their bodies - they simply can't help their peculiar sleeping behaviour.

Let sleeping teenagers lie

Whether late nights are caused by biology or behaviour makes no difference - many teenagers are sleep deprived. Lack of sleep can lead to moodiness, impulsivity and depression.

In America some schools have delayed the start of their classes to give their teenagers some extra time in bed. One school noticed a significant improvement in the educational performance of its students.


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