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Digital diversions leave teens, parents sleep-deprived

Hundreds of thousands of students return to classrooms across the D.C. area.

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"I get sidetracked by other things," says Teddy, a rising senior who says he thinks about getting to bed around 10 p.m. But then he might start gaming. Or chatting with friends on Facebook.

Time gets away.

Experts say the math of teen sleep is improbable -- with super-early starts to school days, with so many activities packed into teen lives, with the circadian rhythms of adolescents leaving many unable to get to sleep before 11 or midnight.

Add to that: texting and Facebooking and gaming.

"Our teens have an overwhelming need for sleep and an insurmountable series of obstacles they have to navigate in order to find a quiet place and time to get to sleep," says Helene Emsellem, author of "Snooze . . . Or Lose!" and director of the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, where the appointment schedule is especially busy this time of year.

She and other experts see lack of sleep as a serious problem, with studies showing links to lower school performance, reduced cognitive abilities and mood problems, including depression.

But there is a wide range in how sleep issues play out in family life.

Colleen Sheehy Orme, a mother of three in Great Falls, has learned that sometimes even the appearance of sleep can be deceiving.

During the school year, her 16-year-old son often said goodnight at 10 p.m. and headed to his bedroom. "Once they were in their rooms, I thought my job was over," she says.

One night, as Orme nudged her younger sons, 10 and 14, toward bed, she cited their older brother's good example. "Well, at least your brother is going to bed," she told them.

His siblings had a good laugh.

"He's in bed, but he's texting," one said.

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