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Adolescence: Physical Changes (page 4)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Changes in Moods

Adolescents are noted for their rapid mood swings and general moodiness. Hormones are thought to be partially responsible for these emotional changes, especially among younger adolescents. Early in the pubertal process, when the hormonal system is being turned on, hormones fluctuate rapidly and result in fluctuating moods. In early adolescence, boys tend to become more irritable, aggressive, and impulsive, whereas girls tend to react with more depressed moods.

But beyond early adolescence, the direct link between hormones and moods is relatively weak. Stressful changes in adolescents' environments may be just as important as biological factors in influencing their moods. Using a method known as the experience sampling method, researchers outfitted adolescents with beepers in order to track the effect of contextual factors on moods. Adolescents carried the beepers with them everywhere they went for a week. The adolescents were beeped at random times. When they were beeped, adolescents recorded where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, and whether their mood was positive or negative. The researchers found that adolescents experienced emotional extremes (both positive and negative) more often than adults. However, changes in moods were linked to what the adolescent was doing rather than biological changes (Larson, Csikszentmihalyi, & Graef, 1980). Since adolescents change contexts and activities quite frequently, their moods change more often than do those of adults or children.

Sleep Requirements

Researchers have also suggested that adolescents' moodiness might be due to their failure to get enough sleep. In fact, most adolescents (and many adults) operate in a state of sleep deprivation (Maas, 2002)—a fact that is especially troubling given the importance of sleep in periods of rapid brain maturation (Dahl, 1999). Adolescents' preference for staying up late and then sleeping in are actually tied to biological changes. When allowed to determine their sleep schedules, most adolescents stay up until 1 A.M. and sleep until 10 A.M. However, school schedules often force adolescents to adhere to sleep schedules better suited to children or adults, leaving adolescents sleepy during school hours (Carskadon, Wolfson, Acebo, Tzischinsky, & Seifer, 1998). Girls tend to get less sleep than boys (likely due to the extra time girls use for grooming in the morning), and sleep loss has been associated with increases in depression and decreases in self-esteem across adolescence (Fredriksen, Rhodes, Reddy, & Way, 2004). As a group, adolescents are sleepiest between 8 A.M. and 9 A.M. and most alert after 3 P.M., posing obvious challenges to those trying to maintain their attention during class!

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