Insomnia: Not Just for Adults!

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

It isn't just adults who deal with insomnia. Studies now show that a quarter of all teenagers may be suffering from insomnia. Once unhealthy sleep patterns are established, it is not easy to change them. Teens that develop sleep problems may continue them into their adult years.

Because their minds and bodies are still growing, teenagers need more sleep than adults. A general guideline is teens need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. It can be a struggle for them to obtain this due to active social lives and busy schedules. If you add insomnia into the mix, most teenagers end up walking around sleep deprived. Here are signs that your teen is not getting the rest that is needed:

  • Difficult to wake up

  • Easily falls asleep during the day

  • Sleeps for long durations on the weekends

  • Cannot wake up on their own in the mornings

  • Irritability and mood swings in the afternoons

There are many reasons why teenagers may develop insomnia. In addition to the normal shift in their body's sleep clock that occurs with puberty, they are faced with a whole new world of experiences and pressures. All of this is going on at a time when their bodies, feelings, and emotions are changing and growing.

Thoughts and worries of school, friends, home, and life can dominate their down time. They may lie in bed at night and think about things that have happened, decisions they need to make, or they may worry. When sleep finally does come, it is soon followed by the chore of having to get up and get ready to go to school. By the time the weekend rolls around, teens are generally wiped out and sleep heavily. By doing so, they only throw off their sleep clock even more and continue the cycle.

Teens already have a reputation for being moody. But studies have shown that insomnia in teens amplifies their irritability and grouchiness. It also can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness. Some teens may also become hostile and aggressive. Lack of sleep also hinders them from being able to perform at their highest levels in school, at work, and at play. It also hinders their ability to concentrate and focus and it puts teens at a greater risk for accidents in vehicles or on the job.

Help for Teens with Insomnia

If you feel that your teenager is suffering from insomnia, talk with your child's doctor. If the problem is severe, your teen may be referred to a sleep specialist. In the meantime, try to create a calm atmosphere in your home, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Close the curtains and dim the lighting in your home in the hours leading up to bed. This will help your teen's body to adjust to sleep mode.

Teens should be encouraged to develop a regular bedtime routine that will help them unwind. Heavy studying, computer games, and action television shows or movies prior to bed should be discouraged. Food and drinks that contain caffeine should be avoided.

Let your teenagers nap. Just don't let them nap for longer than an hour. If your teens want to sleep in on the weekends, let them. Just don't let them sleep two or three hours past their usual wake-up time during the week. Learn about proper sleep hygiene and pass the information along to your child. You can't force a teen into good sleep habits or wish insomnia away but you can do small things that can help them overcome the problem.

To learn more about insomnia, dig deeper into our sleep disorders site or visit my insomnia blog.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.