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Sleep Disorders in Children and Teens

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No one can argue that children and teens today face a high amount of stress. Between academics, peer relationships, family, and future concerns, not to mention physical and mental developmental changes, kids have a lot on their plate. Lack of sleep can affect not only a teen’s grades but also their social interactions, attitude and even their mental or physical health. It goes the other way as well: Difficulty sleeping is one of the primary indicators that a young person is dealing with either everyday stress or a mental health disorder. Sleep disorders in children and teens have become increasingly prevalent as rates of anxiety and depression rise.

Common Sleep Disorders in Teens

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, and it umbrellas several areas that could be affecting a teenager’s sleep. These include:

  • Non-restorative sleep—light sleeping that does not provide adequate rest for the body and mind
  • Sleep disruption—being awakened by noises or physical discomfort
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Psychophysiological insomnia—anxiety over feeling tired the next day or worry about falling asleep.

Whatever the cause may be, the end result is the same—not enough sleep. .


Parasomnia is another of the common sleep disorders in children and adolescents. This includes any disruptive sleep behavior, such as the occasional limb movement, nightmares, teeth grinding, sleepwalking, night terrors or even bedwetting. Most of these generally occur without the child even being aware that they happened. They might not remember the bad dream upon waking up or they may not remember waking up at all. Still, the body isn’t receiving the sleep it desperately needs.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is also an obstacle at this age. Teens with this syndrome produce the chemical known as melatonin later at night than normal. This chemical regulates sleeping and waking patterns, so a teenager may not actually feel sleepy until midnight or later, even though their body and mind are still in need of the normal amount of rest. Obstructive sleep apnea is a concern, too. Teens dealing with this disorder will stop breathing for a period while asleep. They will occasionally wake up when this occurs, but more often than not, they remain asleep. But again, the problem is that they are prevented from falling into a deep, healthy state of sleep. A warning sign for this particular disorder could include snoring or sweating while asleep, and it can be caused by obesity and by enlarged adenoids or tonsils.

Too Much Screen Time

Overuse of digital devices also plays a role in sleep disorders in children and teens. Social media, texting, and gaming has teens staying up later. Others may watch television late into the night. Screen time acts as a stimulant for the brain, making it difficult for the child or teen to shut down and begin the sleeping cycle.

Other Causes of Sleep Deprivation

Some other causes of sleep deprivation include:

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Weak immune system
  • Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Emotional disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Travel (change in time zone)
  • Environmental factors (too hot, bright, noisy, etc.)

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

If just feeling drowsy during class were the only side effect from lack of sleep, then there wouldn’t be too much concern. Unfortunately, the problem of sleep deprivation in teens goes well beyond heavy eyelids, as it can affect all areas of a child or teen’s life.

Academic Performance

Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on a student’s grades. This isn’t just caused by falling asleep in class. Teens who do not acquire the needed amount of sleep may be unfocused and moody during the early part of the school day. Two separate studies show that students who begin school later in the morning (thus providing them with more time to sleep) had improved grades. College of the Holy Cross and Brown University conducted a joint test with 3,000 high school students and the University of Minnesota tested this approach with more than 7,000 students. Starting classes just 30 minutes later resulted in higher grades among all the students. It also led to a decrease in disciplinary problems.

Teen Depression

When a teen continually misses out on their needed sleep, it can bring on a serious battle with depression. In one study, students who were lacking sufficient sleep during the day were three times more likely to suffer from severe depression symptoms than those who met the suggested minimum.

Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of drug and alcohol use among teenagers. Research has found a significant link between substance abuse and poor sleeping habits, especially among teen boys. The lack of sleep leads to a domino effect of problems, such as poor decision-making, changes in attitude and mood, conflicts with friends and family, and substance abuse as a form of self-medication.

Other side effects may include:

  • Body tremors
  • Severe headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Aching muscles
  • Weakened immune system
  • Easily angered
  • Trouble with memory
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Stunted growth

How Parents Can Help Reduce Sleep Disorders in Children and Teens

So one of the first things we can do to help is lighten their load. Help your teen pick out which areas are the most important. With clubs and sports, which one does your teenager enjoy the most? Do they really need to be involved in five? Assure them that they will be fine – and probably happier – with one or two. Help them to also prioritize their homework. Assist them with creating a schedule for each day, recording due dates and planning out how much work needs to be finished each night. There are many apps that can be used to easily keep track of their schedule.

Be open to discussing your teenager’s afterschool job as well. While the lessons of responsibility and hard work are important, your teen’s health is even more vital. Some have to work, and that is okay. But if your child doesn’t really need the job, discuss cutting back on the work hours or cut it out completely. Again, one must remember the full schedule teenagers already juggle.

Another way to help is through a mandatory evening blackout. Make and enforce a rule that has your teen turning off their phone, computer, television and any other electronic, distracting device at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The same should be applied to homework as well. All of these things stimulate the mind and can add unneeded stress, both of which can make it difficult to fall asleep.

Treatment to Address the Underlying Causes of Sleep Disorders

Sometimes these methods still don’t help and you’re left feeling helpless. Thankfully, there are other forms of assistance. Newport Academy specializes in helping teens break free from unwanted patterns like sleep deprivation. We specialize in equipping teens with the tools and knowledge needed to live a happier, healthier life. You want to see your teen succeed, and we can help them in finding that success in their life. Feel free to call us today to see how we can assist you.

Image courtesy of Sander Smeeks via Unsplash.