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Texting, Caffeine Keeping Teens From Sleeping Well

May 30, 2009

Teens that text, drink too much caffeine, play games and surf the internet all night are experiencing difficulty staying alert and functioning the next day, a new study in Pediatrics says.

“They’re up at night and they’re dong a lot less homework than we thought and a lot more multitasking,” said Dr. Christina J. Calamaro, the lead researcher on the study, to Reuters Health.

Calamaro and her colleagues discovered that the more multitasking teens did, the drowsier they were in the daytime, while the ones who drank the most caffeine suffered the most.

Experts say that teens need a minimum of nine hours of sleep every night, Calamaro says, but the normal sleep amount for adolescents is seven hours. The researchers looked into if the use of technology and caffeine affected the amount of sleep they got and how sleepy they were in the day.

To evaluate how much the teen research participants used technology at night, Calamaro and her colleagues created a “multitasking index”: the total amount of time a teen spent on nine activities: watching TV, listening to iPods, studying, and looking at DVDs, etc. They divided these activities by 9; the total amount of hours from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The average index was .6, basically meaning that they participated in one of the nine activities for 5.3 hours.

Only one in five of the participants said they received 8 to 10 hours of sleep nightly, and these teens only had a multitasking index of 0.39.

One third of the teen participants fell asleep in the day, at an average of twice a day. Some admitted to falling asleep as many as eight times a day. The larger a child’s multitasking index number was, the more likely they were to fall asleep in the day.

The teens’ normal caffeine consumption was 215 mg a day.

Three-quarters of the teens drank more than 100 mg of caffeine a day, which was normal for the majority of the participants, the researchers discovered. 11.2% had 400 mg of caffeine daily, while one teen admitted to drinking over 1,400 mg of caffeine every day.

“These adolescents who multitask the most are at risk for changes in school performance, difficulties with executive function, and degradation of neurobehavioral function,” Calamaro and her team said in their study.

The researcher noted that while their study was diminutive, they anticipate that their findings correctly reflect teen behavior. “I won’t be surprised if and when we replicate this that we’ll get similar results, because this is what adolescents are doing.”

Parents have to monitor their children’s nighttime technology use, Calamaro said. It is imperative to ban TVs, computers and especially cell phones in kids’ bedrooms. “The texting is a huge issue. I think we’ll find it to be a greater issue.”

Parents should dissuade teens from drinking caffeine after noon, the researcher noted. “Even though we know adolescents are on a different time schedule, we can still get them less wired at night.”

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