Adolescents & Sleep: What you need to know

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tired teenager

“Not so long ago, while preparing to give a talk to family doctors, it dawned on me that wellness is a bit like the four wheels of a car. One can argue which wheel matters the most, but they all matter and are closely interconnected.”
- Dr. Peter Nieman 

Quality sleep is just one of the many facets of health; however, without sufficient sleep we risk derailing all other efforts to be healthy. We make poor food choices, limit our body’s ability to repair and restore, and hamper our ability to regulate mood and manage stress. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to insufficient sleep, for various reasons. Perhaps the most predominant factor is the natural shift in circadian rhythm that happens in adolescence. This shift causes them to naturally fall asleep and wake up later, which can make it difficult to get the necessary 8-10 hours of sleep on a school night. Other reasons for poor sleep in teens include late-night cell phone use, social obligations, extracurricular activities, academic demands, and stress/worry. Unfortunately, lack of sleep in teens can exacerbate stress and result in a destructive cycle of increased stress and worsened sleep. Multiple studies have also shown a link between insufficient sleep and depression in adolescents. In 2006 the National Sleep Foundation surveyed 1,602 adolescents and found that many exhibited depressive symptoms on a frequent if not daily basis. More than half (56%) said that they felt stressed out and anxious and many reported feeling hopeless about the future. Adolescents with the highest depressive mood scores took longer to fall asleep on school nights, had shorter sleep durations, and had more sleep problems related to sleepiness, than the teens with the lowest scores. 

Another cause of concern in teens with sleep deficiencies is drowsy driving. Driving while sleep-deprived can pose the same risks as driving while impaired. According to Transport Canada, it is estimated that 20% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents involve driver fatigue, and statistics in the US reveal that drivers under the age of 25 make up an estimated 50% or more of drowsy driving collisions. Teenagers and young adults have a higher risk of getting into an accident while sleep impaired because they are new drivers with limited experience. 

And if these consequences of poor sleep in teens weren’t enough, there is also the impact on academic performance. Numerous studies have shown that students who sleep less suffer academically. This is because insufficient sleep impairs memory, concentration and problem-solving. 

Veteran Calgary pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Calgary Herald, Dr. Peter Nieman, recently wrote an article for the Herald addressing the topic of sleep deprivation in teens: “Nieman: Let sleeping teens lie”. For the piece, he interviewed two of our clinic’s physicians, Dr. Samuels, Medical Director and Dr. Rasmussen, Director of Behavioural Sleep Medicine. Dr. Rasmussen, a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy specialist, spoke of the increasing demand for our program by the younger population. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on making connections between thoughts, behaviour, and feelings and is considered an effective tool in combating sleep issues in teens. 

The CBT program includes stimulus control therapy which reduces anxiety and conditioned arousal behaviour at bedtime; it reduces the amount of time spent in bed while improving the quality of sleep; it improves sleep hygiene, pre-sleep routines, teaches the importance of minimizing light exposure; helps with getting better at meditation, deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation and perhaps, most importantly, teaches teens to cope with cognitive distortions (inaccurate thoughts). It is especially useful when depression or stress cause insomnia.”

Parents and teens are becoming more and more aware of how critically important sleep is for physical and mental health. In response to this, we are excited to announce that beginning in January, 2020 the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance will be initiating a pediatric sleep program. More details about the program will be announced soon, so please check back, or contact the clinic for more information. 

Read Nieman: Let Sleeping Teens Lie

Don't just dream of a better sleep. Actually have one.

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