What to do about teen 'junk sleep' syndrome

The problem is technology -- and technology is part of the solution, too

What if I told you about a dangerous virus spreading through high schools and middle schools, a virus that now infects between a quarter and a third of the teen population.

The symptoms of this virus include exhaustion, depression, irritability, decreased creativity, reduced socialization, acne, poor performance, degraded immune functioning, aggressiveness and the inability to handle complex tasks.

If left untreated, the symptoms last for years -- well into adulthood -- and can ruin grades, reduce educational options, damage self-esteem, stunt growth, encourage drug and alcohol use, and dramatically increase the likelihood of car accidents.

And what if I told you this virus was preventable and, once contracted, treatable. As a parent, would you do nothing about it?

Here's the shocking part: Such a virus does exist, and most parents do nothing about it -- neither do schools, doctors nor society at large. The virus is teen technology culture, and it's causing serious harm to a whole generation of kids.

How the virus works

As we all know, teens these days have plenty of technology at their disposal -- cell phones, PCs, media players, video games, home entertainment systems and more.

The combination of school, sports and other extracurricular activities, as well as excess homework, means the only time many kids have to socialize with friends -- the No. 1 priority for most teens -- is between, say, 10 p.m., when their homework is done and around 6 a.m., when they have to get up and get ready for school.

Parents may think their kids are going to bed, but the kids are, in fact, just beginning to socialize. Late on school nights, kids are logging onto MySpace or Facebook; IMing friends; calling or texting them on their cell phones, and playing online video games. This electronically enabled social life runs deep into the night.

Teens are tired all day from staying up late, so they cope with fatigue by drinking energy drinks, Starbucks coffee drinks and soda, all of which are loaded with caffeine, which degrades the quality of sleep. Many teenagers are too tired to stay awake until late at night, so they take naps at bedtime, then wake up in the middle of the night to socialize.

Teens tend to sleep with cell phones on, leaving them next to or actually on their beds. Kids who can't sleep get bored and call or text the teens who can sleep, waking them up at random hours of the night. The newly awakened teens go ahead and call or chat with their other friends, waking them up and so on.

This chain of social sleeplessness ripples unseen through the nation's teen population every single night. Many parents don't even know it's happening, and those who do tend not to understand the extent of the problem or the damage it's causing. The result of all this is that kids are getting far less sleep than they should, and even the little sleep they do get is constantly interrupted.

It's called "junk sleep," or "semisomnia."

How bad is the problem?

Experts say teens need more than nine hours of sleep per night, but many get less than 6.5 hours. And that is often interrupted by cell phone calls and text messages.

Sleep happens in cycles of light and deep sleep, during which the body repairs itself, builds its immune system, forms long-term memories, and handles stress and emotional problems. Interrupted sleep plays havoc with these patterns and compromises the body's ability to grow and function.

Various studies estimate that between 20% and 30% of adolescents suffer from sleep deprivation. A 1998 survey of more than 3,000 high school students found a correlation between poor grades and reduced sleep.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?