Sleepy Teens​—A Matter of Concern?


SLEEP deprivation diminishes mental ability and memory, and adolescent students are among the most at risk, says the Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada. “Lack of sleep in children and adolescents is also linked to behavioural problems, irritability and hyperactivity.” Scientists studied the sleep habits of some 2,200 high school students and found that about 47 percent were getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.

While their life-style often deprives youths of needed sleep, “some of them also may be suffering from undiagnosed medical problems,” says the Globe. “Sleep apnea affects some 4 per cent of children, aged 4 to 18.” During sleep, the airway at the back of the throat either partially or completely closes, restricting oxygen flow. Thus, the brain does not completely relax, and children wake up tired and cranky.

Signs of a possible disorder include snoring or wheezing during sleep, frequent headaches in the morning, and memory and concentration problems, as well as continual, extreme daytime sleepiness. Parents are encouraged to listen occasionally to their children when they are in a deep sleep. Dr. Robert Brouillette, a pediatric sleep expert at Montreal Children’s Hospital, says that a child with a disorder may stop breathing while sleeping, even though the chest may be heaving. “The pause will be terminated with an arousal where the child wakes up or partially wakes up [and] takes a few breaths before falling right back to sleep.” Such episodes can occur hundreds of times each night and cause a child to feel exhausted upon awakening.

The American Sleep Disorders Association recommends a cool, dark bedroom with no distractions, such as televisions or computers. Keeping a regular schedule for going to bed and waking up will also help children and teens to get a good night’s sleep. Some with sleep apnea have used a continuous positive airway pressure machine, which gently blows air through the nostrils and mouth to keep the back of the throat open during sleep. One pediatrician stated: “Sleep is more important than what food we eat. It is more important than exercise. Sleep governs our hormones, our emotions and our immune system.”