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Digital diversions leave teens, parents sleep-deprived

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

Now Orme knows: Going to bed is not the same as going to sleep. New rules have been set: No cellphones or laptops in bed.

A Pew Research Center study released in April showed that more than four of five adolescents say they have slept with their cellphones in or near their bed. Some wake every time their phones buzz with a new text message. Some young couples text through the night.

To ward against this, some parents ban the devices after a certain hour -- insisting cellphones get handed over at 9 p.m., for example, or that they are placed on a parent's dresser before bed.

Snoozy at school

But at school, sleepy faces are a fact of life.

"It's not just the tired thing, but they are zoning out in class," says James G. Fernandez, principal of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington. "It's a big problem. And if you get a substitute in the classroom, they all go to sleep; it's looky here, a 40-minute nap."

Some students have so much trouble getting up in the mornings that assistant principals have been known to place a few wake-up calls -- and it's not all because of texting or homework, Fernandez says. Some of his students work jobs that leave them tired -- or have parents who work multiple jobs and are not there to rouse their sleepy high-schoolers every morning.

In Takoma Park, Phyllis Rattey, 46, looks at the sleep question as one of those issues that allow adolescents the opportunity to learn how to make good choices. "I just feel if you're going to police them, they're going to rely on that," rather than become independent, she says.

Another reality: If the clock says 9:30 p.m. on a weekday, chances are Rattey's head has already hit the pillow. "It's sad when your kids can outlast you," she says.

The sleep mandate can get a little less clear when teenagers are staying up to do their homework.

Should a parent shoo them to bed?

In Clarksburg, Lisa Winstel, 47, says her daughter stays up to read, so in a sense she shouldn't complain. But lately the 13-year-old is still turning the pages of her novels at 1 a.m. When Winstel gets up to insist the lights must go out, the noise sets off a chain reaction.

Her 6-year-old son wakes up. Her dog wants go outside. And by the time Winstel is back under the covers, her night's sleep of seven hours or less is shorter still.

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