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Adolescents need a lot of sleep. The recommended amount is nine hours a night and unfortunately far too many of our youngsters don’t get anywhere near that.

One reason they need their sleep is because the brain consolidates learning whilst they are asleep, which of course is very important during the school years.

There is something else happening as well.  While they sleep their brains are undergoing a massive “haircut” or prune where excess synaptic connections are being actively removed so that they eventually end up with a leaner, more efficient adult brain with a set of fully developed frontal lobes.

Research by Professor Freiberg at the Davis Sleep centre has confirmed that adolescents need sleep for this process to occur. In early childhood a massive number of synaptic connections form but this can ultimately result in excess that can hinder effective problem solving and logical thinking.

The research, which was carried out over a period of 10 years showed that the majority of the pruning occurs between the age of 12 and 16 1/2 years. Synaptic density appears to reach a peak at around the age of 8 and then begins a slow decline.

His team used sleep EEG, which was found to be a useful tool to evaluate adolescent brain maturation and provides a simple relatively inexpensive form of technology as an alternative to the more expensive and cumbersome fMRI.

If you have an adolescent at home, let them lie in. Their frontal lobe development depends on it.

I. Feinberg, I. G. Campbell. Longitudinal sleep EEG trajectories indicate complex patterns of adolescent brain maturation. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2012; 304 (4): R296 DOI: 10.1152/ajpregu.00422.2012

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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