Awake and wired: An opportunity for healthy change

“There’s an opportunity while people are still young to reinforce healthy behaviors as they move to becoming young adults,” explains Christina Calamaro, PH.D. CRNP, assistant professor and director of the University of Maryland Medical School’s  Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Master’s specialty.

Following up on anecdotal reports from parents that adolescents weren’t getting enough sleep, Calamaro went straight to the source, the teens themselves.

What the teens told her wasn’t particularly surprising. They are staying up late to e-mail, text, watch TV and play computer games, all while consuming lots of caffeine to stay awake. Aware that lack of sleep has been linked to both obesity and depression, Calamaro, who studies sleep and obesity in teens immediately wanted to learn more.

Calamaro interviewed 100 kids and adolescent between the ages of 12 and 18. What she discovered was that the more night-time multitasking the teens did, the more caffeine they consumed and the less they slept. In fact, 85 percent of the teens she talked to drank caffeine daily and 11 percent drank more than 400 mg of caffeine a day. That’s the equivalent of 4 espressos daily.

Although researchers have been studying the effect of increasing media night-time media use and its impact on sleep time during adolescence for decades, Calamaro was the first to explore the consequences of the combination of caffeine and technology and their effect on teens sleep habits. Her initial results were published in 2009. In the future, Calamaro plans to explore how lack of sleep impacts decision-making among teens and how adolescents’ lack of sleep relates to depression.

“It is not just about caffeine, it’s about calories,” Calamaro says. “When was the last time you saw a teenager walking into Starbuck and ordering a (no-calorie) espresso? It’s usually a triple shot latte frappe.”

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