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The Sleep-Deprived Teenager

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How much sleep do you get?  As someone who has struggled with sleep problems most of my life, I'm very interested in sleep issues and very conscientious about giving my own kids the best start when it comes to the best sleep habits.

Why are we as a culture so inclined to dismiss or downplay the importance of sleep?  I remember being in high school and having a friend moan, "I'm sooo tired!"  How often do we hear "I'm so tired"?  How often do we say it?

This can be a tough issue for teens.  Ironically, as kids age, they begin to need more sleep than they used to.  According to Dr. Marc Weissbluth in his (overall) great book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child, "Many teenagers over age fifteen require more sleep than in previous years to maintain optimal daytime alertness."  Which could not come at a worse time, as homework increases, extra-curricular events increase, and the demands of part-time jobs increase.

Dr. Weissbluth describes the features Stanford University researchers use to define chronic and severe sleep disturbances in teenagers:

  1. Forty-five or more minutes required to fall asleep on three or more nights a week                OR
  2. One or more awakenings a night followed by thirty or more minutes of wakefulness occurring on three or more nights a week               OR
  3. Three or more awakenings a night on three or more nights a week

He concludes the paragraph on page 362 of his book by saying, "So, if your teenager has this kind of sleep pattern, don't consider it a 'normal' part of growing up."

If this sounds like your teen (or you), talk with your doctor.  Just be warned that many doctors have little to no background on adolescent sleep patterns, and may be inclined to dismiss it as just being a phase that they'll grow out of.  For some concrete strategies to try, check out Dr. Weissbluth's book for some strategies on developing good "sleep hygiene" (flip to Chapter 9 on Schoolchildren and Adolescence).  Everything from depressed moods to impaired critical thinking and school performance can be influenced by chronic overtiredness, so chat with your teen and actively seek out resources to help.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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