Adolescent Insomnia Should Be Taken Seriously


A recent research study published in the August edition of Sleep Medicine found that teens with insomnia were more likely to have depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.  The study was conducted using over 350 high school students (grades 7-12) in South Australia.  The study also indicates that the early treatment of insomnia may have prevented the onset of depression.

Sleep irregularities are often detected in children and adults with a depression or anxiety diagnosis.  Sleep problems are assumed to be symptoms associated with these conditions.  What this study is demonstrating is that sleep irregularities may be a precursor to depression and anxiety.  Based on data from previous studies, it may be possible that up to 47% of depression may be prevented with earlier treatment of insomnia.

The symptoms of insomnia in adolescents are non-restorative sleep (leaves you feeling tired), trouble falling asleep easily, nighttime waking, having trouble falling back to sleep, and early morning awakenings.   The first takeaway from this study for parents is that if your teenager has one or more of these symptoms on a daily basis for a month or more, you should have them seen by their primary care physician for evaluation and treatment.

A long history of sleep research has determined that humans have one or the other of two chronotypes.  About 50% have the eveningness type where they tend to go to sleep two hours later than the other 50% who have the morningness type.  Both types sleep on average for the same number of hours.  Research also has shown that adolescents may be more prone to eveningness and that they may even be ready to fall asleep later than adult with this type.  Research shows that kids with this type may go to sleep earlier during the week because of school but on the weekends they end up going to bed two hours later and waking up two hours later.

The findings on adolescent sleep patterns are probably no surprise to parents who live with teens.  However, the explanation for why this happens might be news to parents.  The study also adds another point to ponder in the current debate of a later start time for school.  Bottom line, adolescents need more sleep than adults (9 hours).   Sleep deficits in teens can lead to all types of mental and physical symptoms.

The second takeaway for parents is to work with your teen to find a sleep schedule that works for them as far as when they go to sleep and provides enough time for them to get the restful sleep they need.  For more information, please see Teens and Sleep provided by the National Sleep Foundation.