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When Puberty Ends

I heard a 23-year-old woman complain: “I must be getting old when 11:00 at night is late.” It got me thinking.

It turns out that the explanation for why teens are natural night owls has recently been elucidated. They can’t help it — they just don’t get tired until way later in the evening. Then, of course, their bodies want to stay asleep well into the next morning in order to feel sufficiently rested. Since most of them are stuck with the artificial structure of school hours, they’re screwed — and condemned to suffer constant fatigue from cumulative sleep deprivation. Old news.

Then I started wondering about the back end of this phenomenon. Even though our American “youth culture” attributes great coolness to late-night happenings, since this pubertal sleep shift is biological, there must come a point at which their pineal glands go back to releasing melatonin at a more reasonable hour. Does 10 years sound about right? I remember not being nearly as enamored of the “all-nighter” by the time medical school rolled around, as opposed to college, where staying up all night was a regular occurrence. Certainly by residency (ages 26 to 30), it was a killer.

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed several other physical phenomena of puberty that simmer down by the early 20s. Acne often lessens. Menses become more regular and with less discomfort. Body odor diminishes. Although the definition of “adulthood” is primarily cultural (including discussions of extended adolescence these days), there remain certain biological realities. The onset of puberty has been extensively researched — the end of the process much less documented. I think it would make for an interesting field of study.

As for the 23-year-old who’s worried about “getting old,” all I can say is: “You’re not getting older. You’re getting better!” You’ll just need to get used to going to bed at a decent hour.

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*


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