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Common Causes of Sleep Problems in Teens

A nationwide survey reveals that many parents have sleep-deprived teenagers at home despite the fact that good sleep is essential during adolescence.

Staying up late to check social media and catch up with friends on phones may be second nature for many teenagers. This habit comes at a cost, however. According to the latest University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 43% of parents say their teens struggle to fall asleep, or wake up and have trouble getting back to sleep.

More than half of parents of sleep-deprived teenagers believe electronics are the culprit. Adolescents need eight to 10 hours of sleep each night once they hit puberty.

Research has shown that disrupted or inadequate sleep can have long-lasting effects on health. Ellen Selkie, M.D. (an adolescent medicine physician at Mott) says, "Teen sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue because most young adults simply aren’t getting enough sleep. We sometimes focus on sleep quality for young children but forget that adolescents’ brains and bodies are still developing, too.” She notes that poor sleep has negative effect on teen's ability to perform well and concentrate in school.

Inadequate sleep has also been linked to various health issues, including anxiety, depression, and obesity. Relationships can also be impaired by mood problems. Additionally, lack of quality sleep can be especially dangerous for teen drivers —increasing their risk of car accidents.

Why is Sleep Important for Teens?

Sleep is essential for people of all ages. For teenagers, however, profound physical, mental, social, and emotional development necessitates quality sleep.

1- Emotional Health

Most people are aware of (and have experienced) how sleep can affect mood, causing irritability and exaggerated emotional responses. Teens who are adjusting to new social relationships, more independence, and responsibility may have greater consequences over time.

A prolonged poor sleep can have negative effect on emotional development, increasing the likelihood of interpersonal conflict and more serious mental health problems.

Poor sleep has been routinely linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, and sleep deprivation in teens can increase the risk of suicide. Improving sleep in adolescents may help to prevent (or alleviate) the symptoms of mental health disorders.

2- Thinking & Academic Achievement

The brain greatly benefits from quality sleep because it promotes memory, attention, and analytical thought. It sharpens thinking by determining the most critical information to consolidate learning.

Sleep also enhances expansive thinking, which can trigger creativity. Sleep is essential for teens whether it’s learning an instrument, studying for a test, or acquiring job skills.

Given the significant effect of sleep on brain function, it's easy to see why teens who don't get quality sleep lack attention and suffer from excessive drowsiness, which can impair their academic performance.

3- Decision-making & Risky Behavior

Sleep loss can negatively impact the development of the frontal lobe —a part of the brain critical in the control of impulsive behavior. Unsurprisingly, numerous researches have discovered that sleep-deprived teens are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as texting while driving, failing to use a seat belt, riding a bike without helmet, and drunk driving.

Smoking, drug and alcohol use, fighting, risky sexual behavior, and carrying of weapon have been identified as more likely in teens who lack sleep, as well.

Behavioral issues can have a wide-ranging impact on a teen's life, jeopardizing both academic performance and relationships with family and friends.

4- Physical Health & Development

Sleep facilitates the proper functioning of nearly every system in the body. It boosts the immune system, aids in hormone regulation, and promotes muscle and tissue recovery.

Adolescents go through significant physical development, which can be crippled by sleep deprivation. Researchers, for instance, discovered that adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a disturbing metabolic profile that might put them at a higher risk of long-term cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

5- Accidents & Injuries

Teens who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have accidental injury —and even death. The increased risk of accidents caused by drowsy driving is of particular concern. Sleep deprivation has been shown in studies to reduce reaction times with an effect similar to heavy alcohol consumption. The impact of drowsy driving in teens can be heightened by a lack of driving experience and a higher rate of distracted driving.

Why Is It Difficult for Teens to Get Sufficient Sleep?

1- Use of electronic devices

Cell phones and tablets are common among teens, and studies (such as the 2014 Sleep in America Poll) reveal that 89% or more of teens keep at least one device in their bedroom at night.

Sleeping problems can be exacerbated by late-night screen time. Using these devices keep their brains wired, and incoming notifications can cause fragmented sleep and will disrupt sleep. Cell phone lights exposure has also been linked to suppressed melatonin production.

2- Time pressure

Teens frequently have their hands full. Work obligations, homework, household chores, community activities, social life, and sports are just a few of the things that compete for their time and attention.

With so much to fit into each day, many teens don't make enough time for sleep. They might stay up late during the week to complete homework or stay up late on weekends hanging out with friends —which can reinforce their night owl schedule.

The pressure to succeed while juggling these numerous commitments can be stressful, and excessive stress has been linked to sleeping problems and insomnia.

3- Delayed sleep schedule & School start times

There's a strong tendency during adolescence to be a "night owl," where they stay up later at night and sleep later into the morning. Experts believe this is a two-part biological impulse affecting adolescent circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle.

First, teens have a slower sleep drive, which means they don't feel tired until later in the evening. Second, the body takes longer to begin producing melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.

Many teens, if allowed to sleep on their own time, would sleep for eight hours or more per night, starting at 11 p.m. (or midnight) until 8 or 9AM, but most schools force teens to wake up much earlier in the morning. Many of them are unable to fall asleep early enough to get eight or more hours of sleep and still arrive at school on time —due to a biological delay in their sleep-wake cycle.

4- Mental health problems

Anxiety and depression are mental health conditions that can make it difficult for teens, as well as adults, to get quality sleep. Lack of sleep can also contribute to these conditions, forming a bidirectional relationship that can harm both sleep and emotional wellness.

To better understand our teen children’s needs, read also: Why is Adolescent Health Important?

5- Sleep disorders

Some teenagers have difficulty sleeping due to an underlying sleep disorder.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, can affect adolescents. OSA is often associated with excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmented sleep.

Teens can also suffer from sleep disorders such as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), which causes a strong compulsion to move the limbs when lying down, and narcolepsy, a disorder that affects the sleep-wake cycle.

6- Neurodevelopmental disorders

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders that can make it more difficult for teens to sleep well. Sleep deprivation may also cause more severe symptoms of these conditions.

Adolescence is a formative period. The brain and body develop significantly, and the transition to adulthood brings major changes in personality, emotions, social and family life, and academics.

Sleep is critical during this period as it works behind the scenes allowing teens to be at their best. Sadly, as studies revealed, many teens get far less sleep than they actually need.

Parents can start by asking their adolescent children about their sleep, as surveys show that many parents are unaware that their children are having sleep problems. If you've tried good sleep habits and lifestyle changes for your child and yet they don't seem to be helping, consult with their GP. You may be referred to a pediatrician, psychologist, or other health professionals who have treated children with persistent sleep problems. Contact JarvisHypnotherapy today for consultation on the best option for your child.


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