Dr. Murphy on Sleepy Teenagers

Many teenagers have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Their problems can include:

  • Problems falling asleep
  • Waking up on time
  • Staying awake for long hours at night
  • Feeling sleepy during the daytime
  • Sleeping until late in the morning
  • Sleeping until late into the afternoon on weekends to “catch up”

Some will even take frequent naps or doze off in class; or seem to have insufficient sleep or an inconsistent or variable sleep schedule. For many of these teenagers, they have “delayed sleep phase disorder” (DSPS), where sleep is delayed by 2 or more hours beyond the socially acceptable or conventional bedtime.

This is seen in anywhere from 7 to 16% of adolescents – it is a common disorder. The exact cause of DSPS is unknown but it may be related to the normal shift in the internal “body clock” that is seen in adolescents after puberty.

It is important to understand that this is not deliberate behavior, but that certain habits can make this condition worse. Diagnosis is made by a detailed history and review in sleep clinic of a sleep log, and treatment combines a variety of interventions.

We promote the development of good sleep habits (i.e. avoiding stimulants and all “screens” before bedtime), shifting the internal clock (either by advancing or delaying its timing); sometimes by the use of “bright light therapy” (and the avoidance of light at night); and rarely the use of medications, which may be tried with the help of a sleep specialist.

Our board-certified sub-specialty physicians provide care in Sleep Medicine. If you and your child continue to struggle with sleep issues, don’t hesitate to discuss this with your provider.

Categories: Sleep, Teens
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