Research shows that during adolescence, sleep patterns begin to shift and change. Compared with younger kids, teens need more sleep, spend less time in deep sleep, and tend to fall asleep and awaken later. Factors in a teen's day-to-day routine — including early school start times, part-time jobs, and social commitments — can conspire to rob them of the sleep they need and make sleepiness during the school day a common problem. But even though they may feel sleepy, many teens may have trouble getting to and staying asleep at night, say researchers from Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and Detroit, Michigan.
Between February 2001 and May 2003, 1,014 13- to 16-year-old teens enrolled in a large health maintenance organization (HMO) and their parents answered questions about sleep habits and problems, use of substances such as alcohol or illegal drugs, academic and social activities, physical health, and overall stress. The teens noted whether they had problems falling asleep, whether they had problems staying asleep, and whether they felt tired instead of refreshed when they woke up. They also noted how often they experienced sleep problems and when the sleep problems began. In addition, the girls in the study reported when they started having their periods.
In this study, researchers diagnosed insomnia if teens had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or if they woke up unrefreshed on 4 nights of the week for at least the past month. Overall, almost 11% of teens had had insomnia at some point in their lives, and 88% of teens who had reported having insomnia were currently experiencing it. Insomnia tended to begin around age 11, and more than half the time, teens who had it also had mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. After starting their periods, girls were about 2.5 times more likely than boys to have insomnia.
What This Means to You. According to the results of this study, insomnia isn't just a problem for adults — many teens have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. Insomnia in teens is likely to be a chronic rather than short-term problem.
To help your teen get the sleep he or she needs, try these tips:
- Encourage your teen to set a regular bedtime.
- Limit caffeine-containing beverages, especially after 4 PM, because they can make it hard to fall asleep.
- Help your teen quit smoking, because lighting up stimulates the nervous system and may negatively affect sleep.
- Encourage your teen to exercise regularly, but not within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime.
- Nix all-nighters and naps — both make it difficult to stick to a sleep schedule.
- Eliminate distractions in your teen's room. Make sure he or she sleeps in a cool, dark room that's free of noise.
If these tips don't help your teen snooze more soundly, talk to your child's doctor about other ways to manage insomnia.
Source: Eric O. Johnson, PhD; Thomas Roth, PhD; Lonni Schultz, PhD; Naomi Breslau, PhD; Pediatrics, February 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006