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Keywords:

  • circadian rhythms;
  • sleep homeostasis;
  • puberty;
  • melatonin;
  • adolescent humans;
  • MSLT

Abstract: Adolescent development is accompanied by profound changes in the timing and amounts of sleep and wakefulness. Many aspects of these changes result from altered psychosocial and life-style circumstances that accompany adolescence. The maturation of biological processes regulating sleep/wake systems, however, may be strongly related to the sleep timing and amount during adolescence—either as “compelling” or “permissive” factors. The two-process model of sleep regulation posits a fundamental sleep-wake homeostatic process (process S) working in concert with the circadian biological timing system (process C) as the primary intrinsic regulatory factors. How do these systems change during adolescence? We present data from adolescent participants examining EEG markers of sleep homeostasis to evaluate whether process S shows maturational changes permissive of altered sleep patterns across puberty. Our data indicate that certain aspects of the homeostatic system are unchanged from late childhood to young adulthood, while other features change in a manner that is permissive of later bedtimes in older adolescents. We also show alterations of the circadian timing system indicating a possible circadian substrate for later adolescent sleep timing. The circadian parameters we have assessed include phase, period, melatonin secretory pattern, light sensitivity, and phase relationships, all of which show evidence of changes during pubertal development with potential to alter sleep patterns substantially. However the changes are mediated—whether through process S, process C, or by a combination—many adolescents have too little sleep at the wrong circadian phase. This pattern is associated with increased risks for excessive sleepiness, difficulty with mood regulation, impaired academic performance, learning difficulties, school tardiness and absenteeism, and accidents and injuries.