Most U.S. adolescents are falling short on sleep, a new survey shows.

Results of the National Sleep Foundation’s “2006 Sleep in America Poll” include:

One in five adolescents get the optimal amount of sleep for their age group (nine or more hours per night). Nearly half (45 percent) get an insufficient amount of sleep (less than eight hours per night). High school students are more likely to have a sleep shortfall than those in middle school.

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Adolescents with sleep shortfalls are more likely to report crankiness, school tardiness, and drowsy driving, the survey shows. But many parents are in the dark about their teens’ sleep deficits, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

The nationwide poll, done by telephone last fall, included about 1,600 adolescents aged 11 to 17 and their parents.

Slacking on Sleep

About half of adolescents reported feeling “too tired” or “sleepy” during the day. A similar number noted difficulty falling asleep at least once in the past two weeks.

Other findings include:

Nearly 20 percent admitted falling asleep in school at least once in the last two weeks. More than a quarter said they felt too tired to exercise or be physically active in the last two weeks. Older adolescents were more likely to stay up later, nap and not have a set bedtime.

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Skimping on sleep also went hand-in-hand with drinking more caffeine, being late to school and falling asleep doing homework.

Adolescents who reported feeling depressed, hopeless, nervous, tense, or too worried were more likely to report taking longer to fall asleep on school nights, getting too little sleep, and having sleep problems related to sleepiness, the survey states.

Drowsy Driving

The poll included 512 adolescents who were drivers.

About half of those adolescents admitted that they had driven while drowsy in the past year. A smaller group — 15 percent — said they had driven while drowsy at least once a week in the past year.

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The survey showed that 5 percent of the drivers reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving in the past year.

It’s not that teens didn’t know the dangers of drowsy driving. Nearly seven out of 10 of those who had had driver’s education or training said they had been given information about sleep and fatigue.

Parents Out of the Loop

Nine out of 10 parents reported that they believed their adolescent got enough sleep at least a few nights a week on school nights.

It’s not clear if the parents thought their children were getting nine or more hours of nightly sleep, or if they defined “enough sleep” differently than the sleep experts cited in the survey.

Sleep Dos & Don'ts

Adolescents indicated that they needed about eight hours of sleep to feel their best during the day. When asked if they could say, “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night a week, about four in 10 agreed.

They also reported having lots of electronic distractions in their bedrooms, including: Electronic music device: 90 percent TV: 57 percent Electronic/video games: 43 percent Cell phone: 42 percent Land-line telephone: 34 percent Computer: 28 percent Internet access: 21 percent

Foundation’s Advice

A National Sleep Foundation news release includes these sleep-friendly tips for adolescents:

Go to bed and get up at consistent times, even on weekends. Get at least nine hours of sleep nightly. Have a relaxing routine before bed, such as reading for fun or taking a warm bath or shower. Keep the bedroom comfortable, dark, and quiet. Get into bright light as soon as possible in the morning. Avoid bright light in the evening. Keep TVs and other distractions out of the bedroom. Limit TV and other distractions before bedtime. Avoid caffeine after lunch.

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Parents can also help by serving as role models for good sleep habits, says the National Sleep Foundation. Funding for the National Sleep Foundation comes from sources such as foundations, federal agencies, and corporations including pharmaceutical companies.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: National Sleep Foundation: “2006 Sleep in America Poll.” News release, National Sleep Foundation.