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Some "night owl" teens may have sleep disorder

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Sept 2 (Reuters) As school doors open across the country, teenagers should be sure to adjust their summer sleep schedule to their new school schedule, experts advise. In other words, they should start hitting the sack earlier so that they will be able to awake earlier and be alert in morning classes.

But for teens with a sleep disorder known as delayed sleep phase syndrome, this solution may not be so simple.

''A lot of teens have a tendency to want to go to bed later; despite this, they still need eight to nine hours of sleep,'' Dr Grace Pien, of the University of Pennsylvania's Division of Sleep Medicine, told Reuters Health. She noted that ''recent research shows they don't perceive their need to sleep quite as acutely as younger or older adults may.'' ''For teens who really have a lot of trouble getting to sleep until 2, 3 in the morning,'' she added, ''these are the kids who need to be evaluated by a sleep specialist.'' Delayed sleep phase syndrome, which, Pien noted, ''is a disorder where people may think they have insomnia,'' affects between 7 per cent and 16 per cent of adolescents and young adults. It is less common among older adults.

Among those affected by the disorder, the body's circadian rhythm allows them to stay awake long past what may be considered a normal bedtime. The condition can be diagnosed through an interview with a trained professional and his or her evaluation of the patient's sleep log.

There is no cure for this sleep disorder, but it can be treated by behavioral modification, such as restricting the consumption of caffeinated beverages, not exercising during or near bedtime hours and limiting light exposure from computer screens and television screens at night, the researcher said.

In some cases, Pien added, teens may need to undergo bright light therapy, to help realign their body's clock to regular sleep hours, or receive medication.

Teenagers without the disorder may also need to perform some behavioral modification to get themselves back on a normal sleep schedule after summer, ''by moving their bedtime back a little each day until they get back in the right cycle, and sticking to it,'' Pien said.

For more information about the University of Pennsylvania's sleep research visit www.uphs.upenn.edu/sleepctr/ REUTERS PDM ND0956

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