Common Sleep Disorders in Teens
Sleep is an integral component to a young person’s ability to function optimally, as adequate rest helps to successfully fuel the body and mind. The healthy amount of sleep requires teenagers to obtain an average of eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep, nightly. There are a number of biological and environmental factors that adversely contribute to teenage sleep health and the lack of proper sleep in teens. It is helpful to be mindful of the fact that teen’s circadian rhythm is shifting daily. The circadian rhythm is most simply described as one’s internal, biological clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in a twenty-four hour period. Teenagers’ hormones are constantly changing, which directly affects the release of melatonin (the brain hormone directly associated with feeling tired). Essentially, melatonin is released later at night in teens than it is in adults and pre-adolescent children, affecting their circadian rhythm.
While some sleep difficulties among teenagers is natural, there are also more serious sleep disorders that affect members of the teenage population in America. Some of the most common types of sleep disorders young people suffer from include sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sleep disorders that go untreated can negatively impact in all areas of an adolescent’s life.
Snoring and sleep apnea occur when a teen’s airflow is limited. This can happen because the soft tissue in the back of the teen’s throat vibrates and in more severe cases his or her airway is also narrowed. If a young persons’ airway is narrowed, this is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and prohibits a teenager’s lungs from getting an adequate amount of air, which in turn causes his or her brain to wake them up from sleeping in order to catch their breath. This does not allow for a teen to sink into a REM sleep cycle, which can cause a severe lack of rest and unproductive sleep.
Insomnia is an umbrella term used when a young person has a difficult time falling asleep, staying asleep, and/ or not feeling rested even if they seemingly had a full nights sleep. Insomnia can cause teens to experience mood swings, depression, and irritability. It can affect a teenager’ physical appearance (e.g. complexion) and cause unhealthy weight fluctuations, increasing one’s risk of obesity.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome typically develops in young people between the ages of eleven and twenty. Most commonly a young person experiencing restless legs syndrome will have overpowering urges to move their legs due to a crawling sensation in their legs. Restless legs syndrome has been linked to PLMS (periodic leg movements of sleep), which can be incredibly disturbing. The most prominent side effect of PLMS is involuntary leg jerking movements.
Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD occurs as a result of a malfunctioning muscular valve that connects one’s esophagus to the gastric system, creating acid reflux. When a teenager with GERD lies down, inflammation and irritation in one’s esophagus is exacerbated. If a teenager constantly experiences discomfort when they lay down due to acid reflux, their sleep will be greatly disrupted. Additionally, GERD most commonly affects teens at night, not solely due to the sleeping position (e.g. laying down), but also because they have had an entire day of eating, creating stomach acids that seep up due to the malfunctioning valve.
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