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Teens Drive Better With More Sleep

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A new study suggests that getting an extra hour of sleep at night could help your teen drive safer.

The study, published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, compared school start times and automobile crash rates for students aged 16 to 18 years in Virginia Beach, Va., where high school classes began between 7:20 a.m. and 7:25 a.m., to students at schools in adjacent Chesapeake, Va., where classes started between 8:40 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

What they discovered was that the earlier risers may not be very alert while behind the wheel and were more prone to sleep loss and daytime sleepiness.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Vorona, said that starting high school later in the morning might make young drivers more alert simply because they get more sleep.

There were 65.8 automobile crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach, and 46.6 crashes for every 1,000 teen drivers in Chesapeake. The comparisons were made in 2008 and were similar to results in 2007.

“We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times,” said Vorona who is an associate professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. Increasingly, the literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues.”

An extra hour of sleep could also improve attention levels, reduce mistakes and performance according to another study in the April edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The Israeli study of 14-year-old, eighth-grade students found those teens that slept 55 minutes longer each night performed better on tests that require attention.

So just one more hour of sleep can make a big difference in how teens drive, and perform in school.

Instead of the 7 or 8 hours of sleep recommended for adults, teens should think in terms of about 9 hours per night. With school schedules and other activities it can be a challenge to set aside that much time. It is also a good idea to get this amount of sleep on a daily basis and not skimp during the week and then try to make it up on the weekend.

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