Resetting Your Sleep Clock
Does the following description sound at all familiar? You're
sitting in class. It's close to the end of the period or to
dismissal time, and you're having trouble stifling that yawn.
It's not as though you didn't get any sleep the previous night.
So what's the problem?
Scientists working in a new field called chronobiology
have come up with a possible explanation. Chronobiology is
the study of effects of time on living things. This science
is based on the assumption that our bodies run on internal
clocks. Unlike the clock on the wall, these inner clocks run
on their own time. This is why people experience "jet
lag" when they travel across several time zones.
What chronobiologists have discovered is that teens' internal
clocks are set differently from other people's. As a rule,
adults and young children beginning feeling tired a few hours
after sunset. Teens, on the other hand, run on clocks whose
"drowsy" setting does not occur until several hours
later. If you have a bedtime of 9 or 10 o'clock and don't
feel sleepy, this may be why.
In the best of all worlds, you'd be able to stay up later
and rise later the next morning. In the real world, things
aren't like that. School starts early. This means you need
to be up and out in time for schooleven if you were
up late the night before. The resulting problem is known as
sleep deprivation. This problem can lead to other problems,
most of them serious. They include:
- Difficulties concentrating and learning. One study
showed that students who are sleep-deprived lose 30 percent
of what they learned the previous day.
- Motor vehicle collisions. A recent study in North
Carolina revealed that 55 percent of crashes in which the
driver fell asleep involved people 25 years old or younger.
- Behavioral problems. A tendency to fight a lot
or to act up in confrontations with parents can sometimes
be traced to a lack of sleep.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise?
Okay, so the old saying about getting to bed and getting
up early doesn't necessarily apply to teens. What can be done
to fix the problem?
One answer, being tried by some high schools, is a later
start time. The entire school day begins and ends later. This
trend, however, is far from widespread. What can you personally
do if you are suffering from too little sleep?
- Avoid doing strenuous exercise at bedtime. The belief
that exercise will tire you out is a myth. If anything,
the extra blood pumping through your veins will keep you
awake longer and later.
- Steer clear of stressproducing activities as bedtime
approaches. If you're having problems with a friend, don't
call at 9 p.m. to straighten things out. On the other hand,
don't let causes of stress in your life build up. You don't
want to lie awake at night thinking about your problems.
Instead take constructive action during the day.
- Skip that afternoon nap. Many teens take a short snooze
when they get home from school. There is nothing unhealthy
about napping, but remember it may make it harder for you
to get to sleep at bedtime. Also, sleep specialists believe
that the best sleep is sleep that extends over larger blocks
Just the Facts
- What is a chronobiologist?
- Define sleep deprivation. Name three problems that
can be caused by sleep deprivation.
- What are two habits you should avoid close to bedtime
if you have problems getting to sleep at night? Why should
you avoid them?
Beyond the Facts
- Explain in your own words why many teens are not sleepy
at their assigned bedtimes.
- What effect do you think staying up late on Friday and
Saturday nights has on a teen's sleeping patterns? Explain
Applying the Facts
Another way to beat sleep problems is by trying to reset
your body clock. Try the following experiment for four school
days. Keep a log of your results.
Day One: Set your alarm clock to go off 15 minutes
earlier than usual. Get up and perform your normal morning
activities. Use the extra time to enjoy a good breakfast,
eating slowly. Try getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than
Day Two: Set your alarm clock to go off 30 minutes
earlier than usual. Use the extra time to plan your day
or chat pleasantly with family members. Go to bed one half
hour earlier than normal.
Day Three: Set your alarm clock to go off 45 minutes
earlier than usual. Use the extra time to complete a homework
assignment you may have left unfinished the night before.
Again, retire to bed 45 minutes earlier than you normally
Day Four: Set your alarm clock for the normal time.
Notice at what time that night you begin to feel sleepy.
Share your log and results with classmates.