Distracted by electronic gadgets in their rooms, teenagers are getting fewer quality sleep hours than ever before. A recent survey by the Sleep Council in Britain found that 30 per cent of children between the ages of 12 to 16 get barely four to seven hours of shut eye a day.  Sleep experts call this phenomenon Junk Sleep - sleep that is of neither the length nor quality that it should be in order to feed the brain with the rest it needs to perform properly at school. 
As a lifestyle choice, it is just as harmful as junk food. It is a Sleep Disorder which not only leads to exhaustion, moodiness and acne, but to more serious complaints like depression, decreased creativity, reduced socialization, poor performance, degraded immune functioning, aggressiveness and the inability to handle complex tasks. Left untreated, these symptoms could last well into adulthood. Like the symptoms of Insomnia, in the long run, these could ruin grades, reduce educational options, damage self-esteem, stunt growth, encourage drug and alcohol use, and dramatically increase the likelihood of car accidents.
Why should I be aware of it?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children and teens need at least nine hours of sleep a night. However, teens in the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world too, are not getting the amount of sleep they need. In a study of American teens, only 20 percent reported getting the requisite nine hours of sleep a night – nearly fifty per cent reported getting less than eight hours on school nights. What happens to a teen’s growing body when he/she does not get enough sleep? Here are some common symptoms –
- Sleepiness during the day (some kids actually drop off during class!)
- Moodiness and irritability
- Difficulty waking up in the mornings
- Inability to concentrate
- Decreased ability, and therefore, poor scholastic performance
- Depressed immunity
Studies also suggest that televisions in the bedroom disrupt sleep. And when teens go to sleep with the TV on, not only is the sound going to hinder their ability to go into deep sleep, they give out enough light to impact their sleep rhythm.
Junk sleep and health
- Teenagers who don’t sleep well or long enough may have a higher risk of elevated blood pressure that could lead to cardiovascular disease later in life, researchers report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association . Adolescents with low sleep efficiency — those who have trouble falling to sleep at night or who wake up too early — had an average 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) higher systolic blood pressure compared to children with higher sleep efficiency.
- UK scientists found sleep deprivation led to hormonal changes which told the body to eat sugary or starchy food to provide an energy boost.
- Fewer hours of shuteye also affects the mental balance of people. In adolescents, who are biologically driven to sleep longer and later than adults do, the effects of insufficient sleep are likely to be even more dramatic--so much so that some sleep experts contend that the nation's early high-school start times, increasingly common, are tantamount to abuse.. Insufficient sleep has also been shown to cause difficulties in school, including disciplinary problems, sleepiness in class and poor concentration.
- Recent research has also revealed an association between sleep deprivation and poorer grades. In a 1998 survey of more than 3,000 high-school students, psychologists found that students who reported that they were getting C's, D's and F's in school obtained about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than students who reported they were getting A's and B's .
Other possible causes of sleep deprivation
Teen sleep deprivation can be a symptom of many other conditions --
- Medical illnesses: heart disease, breathing disorders and a variety of other problems can cause fatigue and sleepiness.
- Mental illness: depression is an important cause of insomnia troubles during the day.
What can I do about it?
Tips for dealing with a junk sleeper
Parents will just have to grit their teeth and get strict with their tech-dependent teens. Junk Sleeping is only a habit, not a permanent condition, and may be quite easily controlled.
- Try (it probably would not be easy) to not have televisions in bedrooms – have one television in the family room so television viewing is more of a social exercise.
- Enforce turn-off times on PCs, IPods and phones.
- Remove every high tech gadget from the bedroom.
- Paint walls calm colors, such as soft blues and greens, tan, light yellow or peach.
- Start eating early – meals eaten too close to bedtime can also hamper sleep.
- Encourage more exercise, especially in the evenings, for this enables deep sleep.
- Limit all caffeinated drinks – this includes colas, coffee and tea.
- Help your teen set a regular sleep-wake routine that won't vary by more than two hours on the weekends.
- Tell your teen the importance of sleep – that sleep is as good, in many ways, as study. During sleep, the brain replays the information learnt and consolidates it into long term memory. This is why teens who sleep well score better on tests than those who are sleep-deprived.
If these simple DIY changes do not work on your junk sleeper, you need professional help. Doctors sometimes prescribe light therapy and melatonin pills to treat such sleep disorders.
Melatonin, available as an over-the-counter pill, signals the brain to turn off alertness. It has been seen to be quite helpful taken in small doses, six hours before bedtime. However, inadequate clinical trials on this medicine do not provide conclusive evidence about their efficacy – though many doctors say it works well in treating delayed sleep-phase syndrome.
An interesting remedy is now available for making sleep-deprived teens more alert when they wake up. Called the "Feel Bright Light" it is based on the premise that light can alleviate the negative effects of Junk Sleep and other sleep disorders as it suppresses brain melatonin, causing wakefulness – and enhances brain seratonin, causing mood elevation. The "Feel Bright Light" is a visor with two bright lights built into the brim. Worn for just twenty minutes, it reinforces the circadian signal of light to the brain.
- In a recent study in the UK, a whopping ninety eight per cent of the 1000 teenagers between 12 and 16 years of age had phones, music systems, or TVs in their bedrooms (almost two-thirds had all three). Twenty three per cent of those interviewed said they regularly fell asleep while watching TV, listening to music, or with "other machinery" still running! 
- In a national survey conducted in 2006, only 20 percent of American teens reported getting nine hours of sleep a night. Nearly half said they slept less than eight hours on school nights and 28 percent of high-school students reported falling asleep in school at least once a week!
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 
- ↑ Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association Article
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Monitor on psychology