Being tired can feel universal. For teenagers, the American Sleep Association recommends eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. But for teens balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family obligations, work, and other responsibilities, this can seem unrealistic and impossible.
According to the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorder Center, teens may suffer from inadequate sleep because they aren’t sleeping enough, but also because they lack a good quality of sleep. So when does inadequate sleep warrant a serious medical problem? We spoke to two medical professionals, who are also sleep experts, about the warning signs of a sleep disorder.
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, the first thing to consider is how much of your life is altered by poor sleep. If you feel so exhausted that it constantly impacts your ability to participate in school and/or work, you might have a problem with getting enough shut-eye.
“Warning signs of a sleep disorder include difficulty concentrating at work or school, chronic fatigue, low energy, consistently taking [over] 30 minutes to fall asleep, loud snoring or breathing, and/or the need for long naps throughout the day,” Barbara Nosal, chief clinical officer at Newport Academy, told Teen Vogue.
Additionally, your mental health, including emotional well-being, can be impacted by not getting enough sleep. Nosal and Bobbi Hopkins, medical director of the Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, both note that inadequate sleep can lead to anxiety and depression.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, which is often caused by excessive stress.
Those who experience insomnia often experience difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. While trying to fall asleep, they may experience racing thoughts. When they finally get to sleep, they may be easily woken up during the night by noises or other stressors. Even when people suffering from insomnia finally sleep for a significant period of time, they may not reach a deep enough sleep to feel fully rested.
“Insomnia can be the result of the mind being unable to shut down, such as thinking about all the things on your to-do list,” explains Nosal. “Sleep deprivation impacts our attitude, relationships, and performance on the job or in school. When we are consistently deprived of sleep over a long period of time, we can actually begin hearing and seeing things that are not there.”
Other types of sleeping disorders that affect teens include restless leg syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnea. RLS can be described as the strong urge to move one’s legs, making it difficult to fall asleep if someone is constantly moving their legs in bed. Sleep apnea involves snoring and irregular breathing, even to the point that breathing stops completely for a moment.
Nosal recommends keeping a sleep journal to document and examine your sleeping habits over a period of time. “Every morning, record how many hours you slept the previous night, the quality of your sleep, and any other factors that could have affected your sleep,” she says. “After a few weeks, examine your sleep journal closely for any patterns of behavior.”
Hopkins recommends that teens who experience inadequate sleep create a schedule. “Build non-negotiable time in your schedule for sleeping,” she says. “With enough good quality sleep, school should be easier and participation in other activities, like clubs, sports, work, etc., will be more enjoyable and less stressful.”
And if that fails, don’t panic. If you are concerned about your ability to sleep, remember that you’re not alone. Even adults struggle with falling and staying asleep. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of all Americans, regardless of their age, sleep less than what is recommended.
If you are struggling, Nosal stresses the importance of confiding in a trusted adult. “When sleep impairs functioning and interferes with work or school,” she says, “it is best to consult with a medical practitioner.”
Author: ADRYAN CORCIONE