Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
March, 2001
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Teens Need More Sleep, Experts Say

(This article is reproduced, with permission, from the September/October 1999 (Volume 6, Number 5) issue of Progress Report, a publication of the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA publications can also be found at their website:

"Almost all high school and college students do not get enough sleep," states Dr. William C. Dement, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Stanford University. "They are at risk for a number of serious consequences, including poor performance at school, increased incidence of automobile accidents, increased moodiness, and increased use of stimulants and alcohol."

A recent National Academy of Sciences forum, entitled The Sleep Needs, Patterns, and Difficulties of Adolescents, looked at teenagers' sleep patterns and found that the nation's teenagers are tired, tired, tired. While teens need around 8 to 9 1/4 hours of sleep per night, surveys show that during the week high school students actually get an average of 7 hours, and 26 percent sleep 6 hours or less per night. Teens have a natural biological clock that make it difficult for them to go to bed before 11 p.m. The result is that they stay up late, get up early, and walk around sleepy all day.

The consequences of teen sleeplessness can be serious. A paper from the National Sleep Foundation observed that sleep deprivation causes increased risk of unintentional injuries and death. Lack of adequate sleep slows reaction time, causes lapses in attention, and exacerbates emotional and behavioral problems. Keeping different sleep schedules on weekends, as many teens do, can also cause fragmented sleep and make it harder for teens to fall asleep at their regular time.

To help teens get enough sleep, experts at the forum recommended later school starting times for high schools and shorter working hours after school. Setting and keeping consistent sleep schedules--going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day--are also important to maintaining mental alertness, the experts say.

Parents in particular should remember that teenagers and young adults from 16 to 25, especially males, have the highest risk for drowsy driving crashes. Such crashes are not related to the teen's overall driving ability or driving record. In one well-known and tragic case, Michael Doucette was named the country's safest teen driver in 1989 and received use of a Dodge Shadow for a year. In February of 1990 he fell asleep at the wheel and drifted across the center line, killing himself and the driver of an oncoming car.

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