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Many Teens Wired, Caffeinated Well Past Bedtime

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

We all know that teens like to text, surf and game for hours, but now a new study shows that things like texting, surfing and gaming, combined with caffeine is affecting their alertness and ability to function during the day.

Researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia found that the more multitasking a teen did, the more likely they were to be dozing off during the day and the kids who nodded off were also the heaviest caffeine consumers.

“They’re up at night and they’re doing a lot less homework than we thought and a lot more multitasking,” said lead researchers Dr. Christina J. Calamaro.

Calamaro and her team noted in their report that experts believe teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep every night but the average sleep time for American adolescents is seven hours. The researchers investigated whether teens’ use of technology and caffeinated beverages might affect how much sleep they got at night and how tired they felt during the day by surveying 100 12- to 18-year olds. To gauge how heavily the study participants used technology at night, Calamaro and her colleagues developed a measure they dubbed the “multitasking index”: the total number of hours a child spent doing each of nine different activities (watching TV, listening to MP3s, doing homework, and watching DVDs or videos, etc) divided by 9, which is the number of hours from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Kids’ average multitasking index was about 6, meaning they were engaged in the equivalent of one of the nine activities for 5.3 hours or four activities for an average 80 minutes each.

Just one in five of the study participants said they got 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, and these teens had an average multitasking index of 0.39.

One third of the study participants said they fell asleep in school and these teens dozed off an average of twice a day, although some said they fell asleep as many as eight times a day. The higher a child’s multitasking index, the more likely they were to fall asleep in school.

The teens’ average caffeine consumption was 215mg daily, or the equivalent of a couple of espressos. Nearly three-quarters of the study participants were drinking more than 100mg of caffeine a day, and there were few with very heavy consumption, the researchers found.

The researcher said that while the current study was small, she expects the findings accurately 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 need to take steps to keep their children’s nighttime technology use under control, Calamaro said. It’s crucial to keep TVs, computers and especially cell phones out of kids’ bedrooms, she said. “The texting is a huge issue. I think we’ll find it to be a greater issue.”

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