Why Are Teenagers So Sleep Deprived?

34:54 minutes

an illustration of teens walking in a halway at a school. most are alert and smiling, but a girl in the middle has her eyes closed and is very tired
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Teenagers have a reputation for being moody, making rash decisions, and maybe even being a bit lazy. Turns out, lack of sleep may be partly to blame for some of this stereotypical behavior. 

Contrary to popular belief, teens actually need more sleep than adults—about 9 to 10 hours a night—to help support critical brain development. But American teens are getting less sleep than they ever have before due to a perfect storm of biology, increased homework, early school start-times, and technology. Over the past three decades, the average American teens’ sleep has shrunk to just 6.5 hours a night. 

Ira talks with Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, psychotherapists and sleep specialists. They’re co-authors of the new book, Generation Sleepless: Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do to Help Them.

The teen voices you heard during this segment were: Zion, Ro’Shell, LaRon, Aleathia, Zahriah, Trysten, Londyn, Jairus and Cix. All are 8th grade students at Manchester Academic Charter School, and recorded by SLB Radio at its Youth Media Center, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

Listen to the teens you heard in this segment talk more about their experience with sleep and school.

Read the transcript for the audio above.

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SLB Radio Productions, Inc. (SLB) uses radio and audio to amplify voices of youth—and members of other communities whose stories are often marginalized—to educate, empower, and build community. Our work is based on the principle that all people have the capacity and right to develop their authentic voice and know that their voice matters—that they matter—and that their voice can be used for self-expression, inquiry, and change.

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Segment Guests

Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is a psychotherapist and sleep specialist based in Los Angeles, California, and the co-author of Generation Sleepless: Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough And What We Can Do To Help Them.

Julie Wright

Julie Wright is a psychotherapist and sleep specialist based in Los Angeles, California, and the co-author of Generation Sleepless: Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough And What We Can Do To Help Them.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. American teenagers are now getting the least amount of sleep that they ever have. And teens will tell you themselves how little sleep they’re getting and how it affects them.

ALATHEA: Now I get up at like 5:40 or 6 o’clock. It affects my ability to focus in school because I’m tired and I want to get to sleep. And I don’t really have a lot of energy.

LAURENT: But normally, I feel cranky coming to school. And I try and sleep because these classes are boring so it’d be tempting to sleep, because if I don’t get enough sleep, I’ll be cranky and I’ll be mean to people.

ROCHELLE: I got to sleep really late. Like the latest that I could stay up on A school day is probably around 3:00. And it’s really not helping when I have to wake up early. If I’m like really tired and I’m doing something I don’t want to do, my attitude– like you’ll definitely be able to tell that I have an attitude more than if I was already feeling fine, because when I’m tired I’m already kind of moody.

ZARIAH: I could have a homework assignment that’s supposed to be the next day. And I didn’t do it. And I’ll be on my laptop all night long working on it, which makes it annoying, because then I’ll fall asleep and then I wake up later in the night like, dang it, let me finish this assignment before my mom wakes me have to go to school.

ZION: I think I get enough sleep but not at the right times. So I’ll be able to get some sleep at night and then, when I go back to school, I might sleep in class one or two times throughout the week. I think it’s normal but I don’t want that to happen.

IRA FLATOW: Sound like any teens you know? Those folks are Alathea, Laurent, Rochelle, Zariah, and Zion, eighth graders at Manchester Academy Charter School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An average night’s sleep for teens, well, it has shrunk to just six and 1/2 hours. And contrary to popular belief, when your teen sleeps until noon, it may not be they’re avoiding their chores. Teens need more sleep than adults to help support critical brain development.

These are the conclusions of my next guests, authors of a new book about teenagers and sleep. And along with loads of other interesting ideas about why teens are sleepless, not only in Seattle but just about everywhere, including the idea that the switch we are making to daylight savings time is a bad idea sleep-wise for teenagers. The book is Generation Sleepless– Why Teens and Tweens are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do to Help Them. The authors are Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright.

They’re psychotherapists and sleep specialists. Heather joins us from Los Angeles and Julie from New York City. Welcome to Science Friday.

HEATHER TURGEON: Thank you so much for having us.

JULIE WRIGHT: Thank you. We’re so excited.

IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome. I want to tell our listeners that we’re taking our calls, calls for you, live about adolescent sleep. You can give us a call. 1-844-724-8255 or 1-844-SCI-TALK. Let me say that again. 844-724-8255. 844-SCI-TALK.

Do you care for a teenager? Are you struggling to help them get to bed at reasonable times? Do you think school start times should be pushed back to allow teens to get more sleep? Our number 844-724-8255.

Heather, we just heard from some teens who are quite cranky it sounded like from lack of sleep. And I know in your book, you argue that some of the negative stereotypes we have about teens, meaning moody, rebellious, and risk takers, are actually because lack of sleep. What’s going on in teens’ brains that might be causing this?

HEATHER TURGEON: Well, wow, were those such powerful illustrations of what we see all the time with teenagers. Those were amazing. So I mean the first thing to know about the teenage brain is that it’s entering into a whole new period of remodeling. We used to think that brain changes were basically done in the early years in early childhood. But science has really shown us that the second decade of life is absolutely pivotal for brain development so that the frontal lobes of the brain are really rewiring, and strengthening, and pruning, and integrating with the rest of the brain.

And the very neat thing to know about that is that a lot of that brain construction happens during sleep. So you know, it explains a lot. It explains why teenagers need more. Sometimes they need more than their younger siblings because of this new phase of development. And it sure does explain why they feel so terrible when they’re chronically sleep deprived.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Well, Julie, why isn’t adolescent sleep more of a priority? Why is there this fundamental misunderstanding about the importance of getting enough sleep?

JULIE WRIGHT: Well, you know, like Heather said, teenagers have a– they’re very good at looking like mini adults. And I think there’s long been this idea that they’re tough, they’re resilient, they can tough it through their academics and their piling on of activities to prepare for their college applications are more important. So sleep keeps falling to the bottom of the list. And we just don’t understand how vulnerable they are during this time when they don’t get enough sleep.

Not only does this remodeling and restructuring not happen as well, but it makes them much more vulnerable to mental health issues. It’s no coincidence that there’s also a mental health crisis going on among today’s teenagers. The brain works differently. We all know how terrible it feels to be sleep deprived.

We know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of our brain that makes us uniquely human and helps us make sense of things, and be reasonable, and have perspective and insight, that part of the brain– it’s often called the executive function– is less active when we’re sleep-deprived. And our lower brain, the amygdala, where we have our stress responses and are more likely to be reactive and feel more negative emotions, is more active. So this explains why teenagers, and any of us really, are cranky. But teenagers are going to feel it more because of what’s going on in their brain and also because of what we describe as a perfect storm of factors that is stealing their sleep.

IRA FLATOW: Heather, how much sleep should teens be getting every night?

HEATHER TURGEON: Yeah. That’s a really good question. So when researchers give teens the opportunity to sleep as much as they’d like, teens will sometimes sleep 12 hours at a stretch. And that’s because they’ve piled up so much sleep debt. So it’s amazing to see their powers of sleep are so strong. And I think most parents of teenagers have or just if we remember what it felt like to be a teenager, we know we could sleep for 10 to 12 hours.

But what happens after teens make up for their sleep debt is that they average out to about nine and 1/4 hours of optimal sleep. And that’s from age 10 to 18. So sleep needs do not change really in those years. And so nine and 1/4 could be considered optimal sleep. And that’s what we in our book we describe as optimal sleep. But eight hours a night is what we consider adequate sleep.

And that’s because when teens sleep less than eight hours, fewer than eight hours a night on a regular basis, it’s correlated with a lot of negative outcomes. So it’s kind of a tipping point, I would say, eight hours. And that’s what we aim for because I think we said earlier that teens are– you said six and 1/2 hours is what most teens are getting. So if we can just get them up to eight hours, that would be enormous.

IRA FLATOW: And how do you tell a teenager to do anything?

HEATHER TURGEON: That’s the million dollar question.

JULIE WRIGHT: That’s the million dollar question.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I mean if you say to a teenager, you should be sleeping more, put down that iPhone, or whatever, your pad, or go to sleep, how do you get them to listen? That is the million dollar question, isn’t it?

JULIE WRIGHT: Yeah. It really is. And technology makes it all the more complicated. But Heather and I put on our therapist hats for this part of the book. And we talk about how absolutely teenagers do not want to be just told what to do, or judged, or nagged. So what we want to do with them is really start by listening to them, by having empathy for them, by joining in with them on things in their life that they talk about, or we can always find signs of things in their lives that they care about that we can relate back to sleep.

Maybe they want to do better in school, or at a sports, or other activity. Maybe they talk about not feeling great, like those teenagers we heard earlier, and looking for ins and helping them sort of come up with solutions to how they’re feeling that are relatable to sleep. It takes time. And it takes patience. And it’s the opposite of just telling them what to do. But when we listen with empathy, we can find a way in so that we’re on their team and we’re there to help them come up with their own solutions.

IRA FLATOW: Do they understand that there’s more than just rest going on in their brains, that the brain is actually active like you were talking about before and needs to sleep? Does that work at all?

HEATHER TURGEON: Yeah. It does, because I think teenagers like to learn about their brains. They are curious. All teens like to feel good. And giving them that information– and what you said is so important that we do have a misconception of sleep as being rest when sleep is really active brain construction time. So I do think that telling them that missing two hours of sleep every night is not missing two hours of rest. It’s missing 2 hours of brain construction. A lot of teens are really motivated by that.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Let’s go to the phones because there are a lot of folks who want to talk about it. Let’s go to Ashley in Orlando. Hi, Ashley. Welcome to Science Friday.

ASHLEY: Hey. I went to a school across a major metropolis. It was a magnet school. And so I was often waking up and on the bus before the sun rose. And I think it’s a nice theory that daylight savings time might help kids sleep more. But in practice, it throws such a wrench in the works having to reset your body clock. And I don’t think kids are really capable of doing that as much as they’re capable of conquering out with the lights still on. I would–

IRA FLATOW: Go ahead.

ASHLEY: Yeah. I get absolutely nothing from that. It would be one thing if you could wake up as the sun rises or something like that, but that’s not the way the clock works, daylight savings time or without.

IRA FLATOW: Would it help, do you think, if it were permanent daylight savings time, Ashley?

ASHLEY: Permanent, yes. Either way, I don’t care which hour it is, but steady as it goes makes life a lot easier.

IRA FLATOW: Heather. Heather. Thank you. Let me get a reaction to that because, in the book, you folks come down heavily against permanent daylight savings time, don’t you?

HEATHER TURGEON: Yeah that’s really– yeah. That’s the scientific consensus that we’d be better off following Standard Time because Standard Time is not an arbitrary time. Standard Time is actually set to be an approximation of the solar day, so sunrise and sunset are more closely mimicked with Standard Time. So following the natural path of the sun and most of us getting sunlight before we start our day.

The problem for teenagers, and like was just [INAUDIBLE]

–up early that they never get morning sun. So this is already a problem. They’re already struggling to wake up in the dark, and be in school, and sometimes take a calculus exam when they have never even seen the morning sun. And so permanent daylight saving time would make that worse.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to David, David in Hartford, Connecticut. Hi, David.

DAVID: Hello.

IRA FLATOW: Hey there. Go ahead.

DAVID: Yeah. Yeah. Hi. So one, yeah, I agree, because I teach middle and high school. And then my youngest is a senior graduating this year. And I remember in high school, again not to be like a get off my own lawn kind of thing, is if I [INAUDIBLE] the one few nights I used to go to bed at 11:00 to be up– Even getting up at 7:00, I was a train wreck.

But my question is, why? I mean I was listening to the students. And I’m like, why are you up at 3:00 AM? Why? Why? And I get there are some times where the one student said I forgot to do a homework assignment. I can’t believe that’s a regular thing. I hope not. But why are they up? I mean with my own youngest, especially early high school, like eighth, ninth, 10th grade, he would be up to 1:00 in the morning sitting on his laptop watching YouTube, or anime, or something, where I’m going, dude, go to bed. And then he would go to bed. And I’m like, buddy, why are you awake?

IRA FLATOW: OK. We feel your pain. We feel your pain, David. Let me– Thanks for calling. Let me get an answer, but first remind everybody that this is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. And Julie, Heather, what do you say to this–


IRA FLATOW: –distraught teacher there.

JULIE WRIGHT: Yeah. This is– we relate to this so much. And we describe a perfect storm of factors that cause modern teens to especially lose sleep. And those include what Heather described as the natural delay in the brain clock. So teenagers naturally feel sleepy later and want to sleep later. That’s a normal developmental path. The melatonin rises later.

And then you add to that homework overload. So today’s teens have more homework than some of us did when we were teenagers. And when you add to that, piling up of activities to show up on your college application, which can really steal time from the teenagers’ afternoon and evening.

And then when you add to that the advent of technology– and I think that is what this caller, what David referred to mostly is how addicting technology is, how it pulls us in, how it engages us, and how it creates a state of flow that it’s very hard to pull away from. It’s very hard to even know how much time has gone by. So there are multiple factors that are stealing sleep. And then at the other end of their night, of course, are the too early school start times.

So it’s really– the second half of the book is all dedicated to helping families, teenagers and their parents, look at sleep in the home, so ways to communicate about sleep, ways to start to make changes in the home so that everybody can go to bed a little bit earlier and start to change their habits around sleep. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of patience. And it takes a lot of good communication and modeling by the parents as well. But it’s absolutely possible. And we also–

IRA FLATOW: It is possible.

JULIE WRIGHT: We want society to take its part. We want schools to look at all of these factors. We want technology companies to work on more responsible design. We really want this to be a call out to society and not just a finger pointed at parents.

IRA FLATOW: And what about peer pressure? Let’s say you want to do this. You’re a teen. You want to do this. But all your friends are going to say, oh, what a nerd. You’re listening to your parents. You’re not going to text me or share with me on your pad in the middle of the night? I don’t get it.

HEATHER TURGEON: It’s definitely true because teenagers have socially wired brains so they’re taken away by technology. And it’s really hard to turn off those FaceTime, and social media, and all of that. But what if we also rebranded sleep as being cool? I think that, actually, teenagers, you know, they like to feel good. They like to learn about their brains. And I think that modern teens are actually pretty interested in knowing all of this. So I think that it’s possible that we can use that to motivate them and to change our relationship with sleep.

IRA FLATOW: OK. We’ll have a lot more to talk about. We have to take a break. And we will come back and talk more with Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, psychotherapists and sleep consultants. And they have written a book about sleeping. It’s called Generation Sleepless– Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do to Help Them.

We’re trying to help you on our phones. Our number 844-724-8255. 844-SCI-TALK. 844-724-8255. As they say, we have lines open so don’t be afraid to call in. We’ll be right back after this short break. Stay with us.

This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. In case you’re just joining us, we’re continuing our conversation about why teens are not getting enough sleep. I’m talking with Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, psychotherapists and sleep specialists. They co-author a new book, Generation Sleepless– Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do To Help. We’re taking your calls at 1-844-724-8255. 1-844-SCI-TALK.

Another big part of this equation as we have been talking about is technology. Many teens are now falling asleep with their smartphones on their pillows. Let’s listen to what some 8th graders had to say about the role technology plays in their ability to get enough sleep.

TRISTAN: Here’s how I think about it. I don’t think about my screen is like my eyes really want the screen. I’m thinking there’s so many things that I can still look at on my phone, whether I’m playing a game, or whether I’m on social media, or whether I’m talking to a friend. There are so many things that I can miss out on if I go to sleep early. That definitely makes it hard for me to sleep, because I don’t want to miss out on anything.

LONDON: I do think I get enough sleep because I usually go to sleep before my bedtime. My parents take my electronics at night so I can’t really watch anything. I do think that more parents should take away their children’s electronics whenever they’re sleeping because you’re not really sure what they’re doing if they’re even up or they’re sleeping.

JARIS: So TikTok is a big thing right now. And it’s like very addicting, personal experience. So it really does affect like how late you stay up till because you can just scroll and scroll and not focus on the time. So that’s what I used to do, like I’ll just scroll and scroll until midnight and I’m like, oh, I need to get off the phone. But I don’t get on my phone. Then I ended up going to sleep late.

SIX: I mean, of course I want more sleep, but I don’t know. Any time I try, it doesn’t end up working. Sleep is probably the best thing in the world, honestly.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Yeah. That was Tristan, London, Jaris, and Six, all eighth graders at Manchester Academic Charter School in Pittsburgh. We’re talking more about sleep. Let’s go to a teenager who is here on the phone with us. Hi, Lottie in Takoma Park, Maryland. You’re a high school senior?

LOTTIE: Hi. My name is Lottie. I’m a high school senior at a magnet program in Maryland. And including me, I know a lot of other students who really struggle to get enough sleep, some of whom get only three hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. It’s not because we’re frittering away time or anything like that but because we truly are struggling to balance our schedules with the amount of work we have and finding time to do the things we actually love to do. And finding the time to do that just eats into our sleep most of the time.

IRA FLATOW: So it’s not the electronic devices or your phone on your pillow is what you’re saying at night.

LOTTIE: No. Honestly, most of my fellow peers I know would love to sleep more if they possibly could. But their time is just– their time is spent on their computers, doing their homework, writing their papers, doing their problem sets.

IRA FLATOW: Heather, what do you think about that?

HEATHER TURGEON: Well, I think it’s true that homework has been growing over the years. And the competition for universities is really where that starts. So it’s a real problem because research is pretty clear that over an hour of homework a night is not that beneficial. It kind of depends on what the homework is. But I think we’ve just grown to think it’s normal that we take so much work home with us from high school. And it has been growing over time. And so that’s why we in the book we have steps for looking at college admissions but also just steps for high schools to reevaluate this, because this is a really big part of the problem.

IRA FLATOW: Julie, you agree?

JULIE WRIGHT: I agree. And I think it’s ironic that we care so much about our kids learning and their eventual happiness and success, but all of these factors going on, like she described, are really compromising them. So it doesn’t really make sense if you sort of think long term about your goals for your teenager. And we really would like schools and colleges to change and for kids to not feel like they have to pile on so many activities. And like she said, we want them to have time to do the things they love and to actually even maybe have some downtime. Their lives are just– they’re so stacked up that it’s impossible to get the sleep that they need.

IRA FLATOW: Lottie, you’ve got the experts on your side.

LOTTIE: [GIGGLING] That’s nice to hear.

IRA FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling. And good luck to you getting sleep.

LOTTIE: Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: Bye bye. 1-844-724-8255. Heather, what about teens catching up on sleep on the weekend? Can you actually catch up on sleep?

HEATHER TURGEON: In a sense. You have what’s called rebound sleep. So if you are sleep deprived and then you have the opportunity to sleep, you will sleep more deeply. And that’s called rebound sleep. So you’ll sleep more and more deeply. And you’ll wake up feeling pretty good. But what happens when teens do that during the weekend is that they go into a state of what we call social jet lag. So their body clock, their brain clock is so confused between the weekday schedule and the weekend schedule.

So ultimately, it doesn’t lead to more sleep over time because by the time Monday rolls around, now the brain is confused again and you start the week in a more sleep deprived state. So it’s like a short term gain and a long term loss. And I mean, I was amazed to hear her say that some of her friends are sleeping three hours a night when you consider I think about one in five teenagers sleeps five hours a night. So considering that they need nine to 10 for optimal brain development, it’s just an astonishing amount of sleep loss.

And the way I think about this is we’re seeing an alarming rise in mental health issues among teens. And we’re all kind of scratching our heads trying to figure this out. And one in three high school students is saying that they have a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness. And they’re also the most sleep deprived population we’ve ever had. So I really believe that we could go a long way towards alleviating that mental health crisis if we could help get these kids more sleep.

IRA FLATOW: Because it’s harder to process their emotions if they’re sleep deprived is what you’re saying.

HEATHER TURGEON: It is. It is. There’s a lot of things that happen in the brain when we’re sleep deprived. The amygdala, which is our emotional reactive center, becomes more active and our frontal cortex isn’t as online so we tend to see the world from a negative filter. We skew towards sadness and anger when we’re sleep deprived. So the brain really changes under sleep deprivation.

We also know that there’s a system in the brain that clears out waste that develops over the course of the day. So byproducts of the brain’s activity are constantly building up these waste products during the day. And there’s a really efficient system in the brain for flushing that waste out, but it does not turn on until we sleep. So it makes sense that you feel really cloudy and just underwater when you’re sleep deprived when you consider all those toxins or waste products that build up in the brain and don’t have the opportunity to flush out.

IRA FLATOW: Interesting. Let’s go to the phones to another teacher, Allison in Pittsburgh. Hi, Allison. Welcome to Science Friday.

ALLISON: Hi. So my question is about start times. My school doesn’t do this, but I know of other schools that have pushed back start times for high schools to like 9:00 AM. And I’m curious to know if there are studies on whether or not this is effective at solving the problem related to chronic sleeplessness.

IRA FLATOW: Excellent question. You talk about it in the book.

JULIE WRIGHT: Yes. We have a whole chapter devoted to this issue. It’s extremely pivotal. And the answer is, yes, when schools move their start times to 8:30 or later, we do see an improvement in teen sleep and also in how they feel and how they perform at school. Some states, California for one, has actually passed legislation. And it will start this fall.

But it’s not the only solution but it’s a huge step in the right direction, because that’s when teenage brains still want to be asleep. They really are missing out on often hours of the last stages of sleep, which are usually heavier with dream sleep, which is important for emotional processing and going over things that happen during the day. And it is very important for their emotional health.

IRA FLATOW: Allison, get them to read this book. Maybe they’ll push you back an hour. Good luck.

ALLISON: Yeah. Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: You’re Welcome. All right. Let’s go. Let’s cycle on to Theresa in Florence, South Carolina. Hi. Welcome to Science Friday.

THERESA: Hi. I am also a teacher and a parent of a student with severe ADHD. And one of the things that I have noticed over the course of 20 years– my son turns 19 in a couple of days– him and 20 years of students is that those students that have consistent bedtimes where they’re more likely to get their eight, or nine, or 10 hours of sleep at night do better when they’re– those that are diagnosed with ADHD. And so I was wondering if your research had touched anything about that, about how consistent sleep times can be actually a treatment for ADHD.

IRA FLATOW: Interesting question. Julie?

JULIE WRIGHT: Yeah. When you think about what happens in the brain, everything that we’ve described here between the teenage brain’s unique need for sleep because of all the remodeling, when you think about what goes on during sleep as far as what Heather described about the toxins being cleared out, and then there’s also research showing that when we’re sleep deprived, our memories are not stored in our long term memory as efficiently. We’re likely to remember something in a short term way but not in a long term way.

So it makes perfect sense that it would be a treatment for ADHD because sleep is so pivotal to learning, to memory, to just our ability to take a pause and think before we act, which I think is really important. That’s one of the functions that the prefrontal cortex. So all of those are really important to kids and people who have ADHD, just like they are to everyone.

IRA FLATOW: Thank you, Theresa.

THERESA: Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: Drive safely. Let’s talk about this. This is a real issue about getting the school times pushed back perhaps an hour. And you talk about it in your book as being important. I mean it’s very hard to do, as you say, because there are after school events. Could be sports. Could be theater. Could be other kinds of things that the schools have to allow time for, right?


IRA FLATOW: How do we do that?

HEATHER TURGEON: Well, I mean, a lot of schools have done it and have really figured it out. In the book, we have examples of schedules that kind of line up two kids, one that goes to an early start time school and one that goes to a healthy start time school and what their afternoons look like. And it kind of all works out for everybody in the end. Change is hard, so I think that’s part of it is just the status quo is kind of hard to move and there’s a little inertia around it.

But essentially, just moving from– my neighborhood high school had a 7:50 start time and this year it will move to 8:30. So that’s just 40 minutes of time that it will push the end time for school out a little bit. But it will line up OK for– everybody in California is going to have to do it so track meets will be able– sports teams will be able to align with each other and so forth because everyone has to do it.

So the logistics work out. But the important part is that between 7:50 and 8:30, that 40 minutes of sleep, as Julie alluded to this with dream sleep, is really important emotional processing time for the teenage brain. And just getting that extra 30 to 40 minutes of sleep in the morning will have a huge impact.

IRA FLATOW: Interesting. This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios, talking about the new book Generation Sleepless– Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do to Help Them. Let’s see how many calls I can get in in a couple of minutes here because there are so many of them. Mike in Ben Lomond, California. Hi, Mike.


IRA FLATOW: Go ahead, please.

MIKE: I’m listening to you for the last half hour. But my comment is, I’m in my 60s. And when I was in high school, I didn’t have an issue with sleep. And I was a paper boy up at 4 o’clock in the morning, played sports, and went to bed at a reasonable time at night. That was most of my high school.

But you know, kids nowadays use computers all the time. And I’ve been an IT person all of my life and just retired. But one of the things that helped me when I was having issues sleeping when I was on the screen all day, not to mention coming home at night and being on the screen, was that when my I went to my optometrist and I got new glasses, she gave me or prescribed the glasses that have the light filter thing on them. And I noticed I started sleeping a whole lot better once I switched my glasses.

IRA FLATOW: Those blue light glasses. Yeah.

MIKE: Yeah. And it made a huge difference in my sleep. So I was just wondering with the people there that if that really affects people’s sleep, especially kids, if they’re even, yes, they’re doing their homework but they’re not doing it on a book and paper like probably you and I used to do it when we were in school. But it may make a difference in their sleep if they had the blue light glasses or some way to turn that off like I have on my iPad.

IRA FLATOW: Interesting. Julie? Heather?

HEATHER TURGEON: Yeah. I think it’s definitely something that can contribute to helping, the blue light blocking glasses. We talk about the factors of technology that steal sleep or delay sleep being light so the blue light blocking glasses would help with that. But there’s also activation. They’re very activating. They wake us up, and make us interested, and ask us to continue to interact. And then the third one is flow. They engage us. They draw us in. We lose time. We don’t even know how much time has passed when we’re going down a rabbit hole or watching YouTube videos.

But I think that Mike really touched on something even more effective than blue light glasses, which are not a bad idea. But he said that he didn’t have the technology when he was a kid. He went to bed at a reasonable time. And one of the teenagers who spoke earlier on the show today said that her parents don’t let her have any technology in the bedroom. And you know, Heather and I are really big proponents of families changing habits around technology. You know, I think technology has come into our lives unbidden and sort of just taken away a lot of our attention and time without us realizing how insidious it is. And I think–

IRA FLATOW: It’s up to families– I’m running out of time so I’m trying to summarize. You’re saying it’s up to families to make sure that this is enforced. Thank you both for– to Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, authors of Generation Sleepless Why Teens and Tweens Are Not Sleeping Enough and What We Can Do To Help. Also special thanks to SLB Radio for helping bring us all those student voices from Manchester Academic Charter School.

That’s about all the time we have for this weekend. Of course, you can also send us your comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, e-mail us, SciFri@sciencefriday.com. Have a great weekend. We’ll see you next week. I’m Ira Flatow in New York.

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