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Sleep deprivation can be hazardous for teens

Posted - Aug. 23, 2004 at 3:20 p.m.



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Matt Callahan, exhausted from work and college studies, was asleep at the wheel when his black Nissan pickup ran into a ditch in 1994. A telephone pole fell and bent the truck into a 45-degree angle.

Callahan broke his jaw and several other bones, prolonging his university degree program.

"It was a stupid mistake of not getting enough sleep, which I paid for for a long time," said Callahan, who has recovered and has a job and a family.

Callahan isn't alone. Experts say a growing number of young people, fatigued by the demands of school, extracurricular activities and part-time work, aren't getting enough sleep.

In its extreme, sleep deprivation can result in tragic stories such as Callahan's. But, much more commonly, it lowers students' performance in school.

William Dehorney, 16, a senior, said he gets about six hours of sleep on school nights, because of his participation in theater and choir and a part-time job.

During the school year, he has play rehearsals from 3 to 5 p.m. and choir until 6. Then it's off to work as a cashier 18 to 20 hours per week.

Dehorney said he wakes up at 6 a.m. and goes to bed between 11:45 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. To get more sleep, Dehorney, who said he maintains A's and B's in school, often takes short naps.

A few school districts nationally have taken the lead and delayed the start of the school day, but most schools maintain that it's the responsibility of parents and teens to make sure they get enough sleep.

So what's the best way to ensure that kids get enough sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends that students get 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours of sleep per night.

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GETTING ENOUGH REST

Here are some tips from the sleep foundation and other experts for students juggling a full schedule:

- Take a short nap in the early afternoon, if possible. Set an alarm clock.

- Cut back on caffeine - soft drinks, iced tea, chocolate - after midafternoon.

- Slash nicotine; used close to bedtime, it can disrupt your sleep.

- Finish eating two to three hours before bedtime.

- Exercise regularly, and complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime.

- Maintain a regular bedtime routine, including regular hours.

- Create a comfortable sleep environment.

- Later at night, keep Web surfing, watching TV and talking on the phone to a minimum so your mind can drift toward sleep. Read a book or finish homework. If possible, get the computer and TV out of your bedroom.

- In the morning, open the curtains to help yourself wake up.

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ONLINE: National Sleep Foundation: www.sleepfoundation.org

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(c) 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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