Dr. Judith Owens speaks in Greenwich, CT about teen sleep

Watch the full 1-hour session here, and learn everything you need to know about teen sleep:

“You’re asking students to wake up and function at a time when their brains are telling them loudly and clearly to be asleep,” said Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Harvard Medical School neurology professor. On Tuesday, Owens said teens are struggling physically and psychologically from a chronic lack of sleep, in large part because they cannot adjust to their schools’ early schedules. They are not adapting because their circadian rhythms naturally shift later during their teenage years. As a result, the average adolescent finds it “almost impossible” to go to sleep before 11 p.m. and is not “biologically programmed” to wake up before 8 a.m., Owens said. “Teens cannot force themselves and parents cannot make them fall asleep earlier,” Owens said. In addition, early schedules force students to get up during their “circadian nadir,” the time of day when they feel most sleepy. They also miss out on rapid eye movement sleep, concentrated in the latter third of the night, which is critical for memory consolidation and learning, Owens said. “We’re asking these kids to get up at the wrong time, when they haven’t gotten enough sleep and when they haven’t gotten the stage of sleep that is most critical for their ability to learn in school – a triple whammy if you will,” Owens said.