updated 3/28/2006 12:21:49 AM ET 2006-03-28T05:21:49

America is raising a nation of sleep-deprived kids, with only 20 percent getting the recommended nine hours of shuteye on school nights and more than one in four reporting dozing off in class.

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Many are arriving late to school because of oversleeping and others are driving drowsy, according to a poll released Tuesday by the National Sleep Foundation.

“In the competition between the natural tendency to stay up late and early school start times, a teen’s sleep is what loses out,” said Jodi A. Mindell of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

“Sending students to school without enough sleep is like sending them to school without breakfast. Sleep serves not only a restorative function for adolescents’ bodies and brains, but it is also a key time when they process what they’ve learned during the day.” said Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Nine hours each night recommended
School-age children and teenagers should get at least nine hours of sleep a day, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health.

The poll found that sixth-graders were sleeping an average of 8.4 hours on school nights and 12th-graders just 6.9 hours.

Without enough sleep, a person has trouble focusing and responding quickly, according to NIH. The agency said there is growing evidence linking a chronic lack of sleep with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and infections.

The poll, taken in November, interviewed 1,602 adult caregivers and their children age 11 to 17. It had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

Among the findings:

  • Some 28 percent of high-school students said they fell asleep in class at least once a week. In addition, 22 percent dozed off doing homework and 14 percent arrive late or miss school because they oversleep.
  • Some 51 percent of adolescent drivers have been on the road while drowsy in the past year.
  • Four-fifths of students who get the recommended amount of sleep are achieving As and Bs in school; those who get less sleep are more likely to get lower grades.
  • Some 28 percent of adolescents say they are too tired to exercise.
  • Just 20 percent of adolescents said they get nine hours of sleep on school nights and 45 percent reported sleeping less than eight hours.

“We call on parents, educators and teenagers themselves to take an active role in making sleep a priority,” said Richard L. Gelula, the foundation’s chief executive officer.

TVs, electronic gadgets to blame?
Nearly all youngsters — 97 percent — have at least one electronic item in their bedroom. These include television, computer, phone or music devices. Adolescents with four or more such items in their bedrooms are much more likely than their peers to get an insufficient amount of sleep at night and almost twice as likely to fall asleep in school and while doing homework, the foundation reported.

Stages of sleepAccording to the NIH, sleep needs vary from person to person and change throughout life.

For example, newborns sleep 16 hours to 18 hours a day; children in preschool sleep between 10 hours and 12 hours a day; school-age children and teenagers should get at least nine hours of sleep a day. Adults should get seven hours to eight hours of sleep each day.

The foundation describes itself as an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by studying sleep and sleep disorders. It is funded by memberships, sales of educational materials, advertising, investment income, individual donations, subscriptions, and educational grants from foundations, federal agencies and corporations, including pharmaceutical companies.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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