Dr. Blaivas Answers Your Questions About Sleep Problems

Allen Blaivas, M.D. Health Pro
  • Question:
    I am a parent of a teenager. What are some signs that I should be aware of to determine if my teen has a sleep disorder?

    This is a very important question and it provides a good opportunity to address sleep in adolescents. I will review some common sleep problems that occur particularly in teens, and hope that this will give you enough information to determine if your child has a sleep disorder.

    Firstly, we need to review certain changes in sleep behavior that occur with puberty. These changes can be physiologic (associated with body processes) or behavioral, and include:
    • A need to sleep as much as they did before puberty, generally from 8.5-9.25 hours a night. In our day and age, with a busy school and social schedule, extracurricular activities, sports, and jobs, only about 20% of teens actually get the recommended amount of sleep. On weekends teens typically “crash” and sleep-in for many hours trying to make up for the significant sleep debt that has accumulated over the week. These irregular sleep habits then lead to trouble falling asleep or waking up, and poor quality sleep.
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    • Even when able to sleep enough, many teens’ daytime sleepiness increases.
    • Adolescents’ undergo a change in their “sleep phase”. Essentially what this means is that they have a tendency to fall asleep later and consequently to wake up later. This is controlled by the body’s natural rhythm, and that explains why teens tend to go to sleep later (after midnight) and enjoy sleeping in. Obviously, this means that when they are attending school classes early in the morning their bodies are still “sleeping”. Conversely, at night when they should be tired, their bodies are still in overdrive, not allowing them to get to sleep. In fact, many school districts have successfully changed the start time of classes and noted a decrease in drop-out rate, improved attendance, less sleeping in class, and fewer students seeking help for stress relief due to academic pressures.

    The consequences of poor sleep in teenagers are linked to many problems, which include:
    • Increased risk of traffic accidents. A state study in North Carolina found that 55% of crashes associated with the driver falling asleep were caused by drivers 25 years old or less.
    • Low grades and poor school performance.
    • Increased complaints of depression, irritability, poor impulse-control, decreased attention.
    • Increased likelihood of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol use.

    Some suggestions for improving these habits in teens can improve their sleep and help address these problems.
    1. Parents should set a good example by sleeping enough.
    2. Try to have consistent sleep and wake times, even on weekends.
    3. Maintain the bedroom as a sleep-inducing environment. Only do quiet, relaxing activity in the bedroom and avoid overly stimulating activities before bed. In keeping with this relaxing environment televisions and computers should be removed.
    4. Avoid caffeine and nicotine in the afternoon and evening.

  • FYI- There is a lot of great information on teens and sleep on the National Sleep Foundation’s website.
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Published On: October 19, 2006