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Common sleep disorders in teenagers

Sleep disorders happen in every age group - infants to teenagers to elderly people. They can make you feel exhausted when you need to be alert.

For teenagers, falling asleep during lessons is possible, only to wake up startled by something like the teacher's voice.

Conditions such as sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder that causes periods when breathing stops (apnoeas), and interrupts deep sleep can cause daytime sleepiness.

Treatment can include having the tonsils and adenoids removed.

Sometimes late nights out and texting before bedtime can be to blame, as can stress about exams.

How much sleep is enough for teenagers?

On average, teenagers need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. If you fall asleep at 10pm, you'd need to sleep until 7am to meet this requirement. That's not always possible, especially if you have to be up early to get to school.

Many teenagers suffer with chronic insomnia. That means difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or not feeling rested despite spending enough time in bed.

The problem is, missing sleep repeatedly affects every part of your life - from relationships with friends, to your ability to concentrate at school, to your mood. Many teenagers who miss sleep suffer with irritability, mood swings, and even depression.

Sleep deprivation also affects your complexion, your health, and your weight. (Some studies link sleeping less with an increased risk of obesity). Too little sleep can also make young people more likely to suffer injuries and have car accidents. That's why it's so important to deal with sleep disorders when they occur.

How sleep works

Everyone needs restful sleep to be energetic and alert, and to stay healthy. To help you understand how sleep affects you personally, let's look at how sleep works.

Sleep has five distinct stages, each with specific characteristics defined by your brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tension. There are two broad categories of sleep:

  • REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when you may recall vivid dreams.
  • NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.

NREM sleep has four levels or stages. Stage one sleep, the lightest stage, is the transition from being awake to deeper sleep. Stage two, intermediate sleep, accounts for 40 to 50% of your sleep time. Stages three and four, called slow wave or delta sleep, are the deepest levels and occur mostly in the first third of the night. It is during delta sleep when your body heals itself. It is also difficult to awaken from delta sleep, as most of us feel dazed or groggy.

Sleep stages cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. During a normal night, there are about four to five sleep cycles.

Our circadian cycles - that is, our internal ‘body clocks’ - determine our daily sleep cycles, performance, alertness, moods and even our metabolism. Melatonin, a hormone made by the pineal gland in the base of the brain, is linked to the circadian system. Along with sunlight, melatonin helps to set the brain's biological clock. At night, melatonin is secreted, causing the body temperature to lower, and helping us sleep.

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