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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.

Have you ever fallen asleep in class and the more you tried to stay awake, the sleepier you felt? Suddenly, something startled you (like your teacher's voice!) and you woke up. You felt groggy and embarrassed, wondering what you missed while you slept.

Luke (not his real name) had a hard time staying awake in his classes. He thought it was because maths and science weren't his favourite courses. But there was something more serious going on.

Luke had obstructive sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder that causes periods when breathing stops (apnoeas), and interrupts deep sleep. Luke's doctor recommended that he have his tonsils and adenoids removed. Within a week of having the outpatient surgery, Luke was sleeping soundly at night and feeling alert and productive at school during the day.

You never think about needing more sleep...until you start to feel exhausted like Luke did. Even if they don't have sleep disorders, most teenagers are sleep-deprived. They may stay up late surfing the Internet, watching favourite late-night shows, or just tossing and turning for hours with eyes wide open. Sleep is also often disrupted during stressful times like exams or when you're having relationship problems. Your mind stays alert, making it impossible to relax.

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.
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