An article in Contemporary Pediatrics by Drs. L. Amos and L. D’Andrea discusses the unique sleep needs of the adolescent. Biologic changes in the sleep-wake cycle together with environmental and social influences contribute to teenagers not getting enough sleep and feeling sleepy during the day.

Teenagers generally require about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep but only approximately 20 percent of all surveyed adolescents (sixth to 12th graders) report an adequate amount and when you look at ninth to 12th graders the percentage drops to 9 percent. Interestingly, 90 percent of parents believe that their adolescent gets enough sleep on most school nights.

Light is the main stimulus that organizes the human body’s biologic processes including sleep regulation. Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, induces evening drowsiness and maintains the sleep-wake cycle. Light blocks the secretion of melatonin: therefore light exposure at bedtime can delay sleep. Developmental changes in adolescents cause a delay in melatonin secretion which causes problems with adolescents feeling sleepy at bedtime.

Ninety-seven percent of adolescents report having an electronic device in their bedroom such as television, computers, DVD’s, cellphones or video/computer games. It is suggested that this exposure to light exaggerates the delay in melatonin secretion and the tendency to become a night owl.

Caffeine consumption also is a problem. Many teenagers are unaware of the caffeine content of the soft drinks/coffee/tea/chocolate/energy drinks that they consume. In healthy adults it takes five hours to eliminate half of the caffeine consumed therefore, caffeine can linger in the body long after consumed and affect sleep.

Sleep is important for growth as growth hormones are produced during deep sleep. Sleep helps fight off sickness as the immune system is weakened with decreased sleep. Sleep helps the teenager do better on tests as the sleep stage when you dream strengthens your memory. Teenagers have more energy for after school activities. Getting enough sleep improves your mood.

The steps for getting good sleep are the following:

• Establish a bedtime routine such as a warm shower, reading, listening to soft music.

• Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.

• Do not consume caffeine after lunch.

• Set a consistent sleep schedule. Keep the weekday and weekend sleep schedule similar.

• Don’t take an afternoon nap. If you feel you have to take a nap limited to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

• Avoid tobacco and alcohol because these substances disrupt sleep.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.