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Published: 15 March 2013

Teenagers. Naturally rebellious or just out of sync?

Everyone knows that teenagers don’t get enough sleep. Fact is, they can’t help it...

Prolonged sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on how well we function by day, affecting concentration, memory and mood. It seems that teenagers can suffer more than most and, unsurprisingly, that’s mostly down to hormones – but putting the clocks forward in March simply makes matters worse.

“Other research has shown that during adolescence teenagers experience a shift in their circadian rhythm which causes sleep promoting hormones to be produced later into the night,” explains researcher Joanne Bower. “This means that teenagers are awake later in the evening, and find it difficult to rise early in the morning. The need to get up for school and other activities means that they have less time for sleep, and this can lead to persistent sleep deprivation. Losing an extra hour may mean that teenagers suffer more than most from the clock change.”

Researchers from the University’s Sleep Research Centre wanted to establish the scale of sleep deprivation among teenagers and how much impact the clock change in the UK has on their alertness.

In March 2012, they ran a variety of attention and reaction tests with a group of 16 year-old sixth form students at the Claremont Fan Court School in Esher, Surrey. The study was funded by the Royal Society which promotes science to schools and the wider public.

For two weeks, the male and female participants were asked to wear an Actiwatch to track their sleep patterns and movement 24 hours a day. Sleeping patterns were measured in the week up to the clock change and the teenagers’ reaction times were tested using a machine similar to those used to test pilots’ alertness relative to their shift patterns. The same tests were taken for the week after the clock change and compared with the first week’s results.

Even before the clocks changed, the teenagers were already sleep deprived – getting an average of less than seven hours sleep a night.

To find out more, watch our video about Sleep/Wake Research at Surrey Clinical Research Centre.

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