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Sleep Specialists Offer Tips to Help Teens Get the Rest They Need

Sleeping until noon is a teenage ritual — so typical that most parents and teens think nothing of it. Sometimes, however, out-sleeping the alarm can signal a problem. Just like the general population, teenagers are prone to chronic sleep disorders that can affect mood, concentration and academic success. To address these issues, the experts at the comprehensive sleep centers of the Crozer-Keystone Health System offer solutions and therapies for teenagers with sleep problems.

“The biggest issue we see in teenagers and sleep is a mismatch in their demands for time and their biology. Teens are classically phase-delayed — meaning, they stay up later and wake up later than what might be expected for their school schedule,” says Michael Weinstein, M.D., pulmonologist and medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill. “Add to that the fact that teens today have more time commitments, with extracurricular activities and sports, and they’re going to be tired.”

It turns out, there’s a very natural reason why teens like to hit the snooze button. “Generally, teenagers have higher sleep requirements than when they were nine or 10 years old. Adolescent growth spurts require more sleep,” says Asad Khan, M.D., pulmonologist and medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Brinton Lake in Glen Mills.

For most teenagers, a later bedtime won’t interfere with normal functioning. For some, however, a pattern of phase-delayed sleep can lead to sleep deprivation, which has negative side effects. “Sleep deprivation affects your mood and can lead to depression. It can lead to poor performance in school, or more serious mistakes, such as drowsy driving and accidents,” Weinstein says.

Treating delayed sleep-phase syndrome typically involves techniques to gain better control over the sleep cycle. Because treatments are behavioral, physicians rely on the willingness of the patient to make changes. “Most of the time, the teenager will recognize it’s a problem and want to get help, especially if they’re motivated to do well in school,” says Andrew Borson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park. “By the time patients come to see us, they’ve usually tried going to sleep earlier on their own and it hasn’t worked.”

Teens are encouraged to stop napping and to try to keep to a sleep schedule over weekends, even when their schedule allows them to stay up later. “If you have more time, such as on a school break, you can try what we call chronotherapy,” Dr. Khan says. “If the teen is going to sleep at 2 a.m. you delay the bedtime by an hour each night and let them sleep as long as they want. You continue this until they are on the schedule they should be on. Another thing we suggest is using light therapy to adjust the internal clock.” Doctors might also recommend using melatonin to help reset sleeping patterns.

Delayed sleep-phase syndrome isn’t the only problem specialists see in teens. Other problems include narcolepsy, a rare chronic disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and sudden sleep “attacks” that usually starts during young adulthood. Narcolepsy can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

More common is sleep apnea, a condition in which the sleeper’s breathing repeatedly starts and stops and the sleeper may wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. Sleep apnea makes it impossible for a teen to get a good night’s sleep, but doctors are increasingly seeing this condition among adolescents. Khan says it often occurs when teens have enlarged tonsils. Another major risk factor is weight.

“In general, we’re seeing more cases of sleep apnea with teens, because pediatricians are more frequently recognizing it and referring patients to us, but it’s also a result of the obesity epidemic,” says Calvin Stafford, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Center at Taylor.

Sleep apnea is treated with an appliance called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which enables breathing during sleep, or sometimes with surgery to open the airways. Weight loss and other lifestyle changes may be recommended.

Experts say that awareness is building about sleep issues in general and particularly for teens. “Science supports getting proper rest for growth, for memory function, for immune function. We know that people who are sleep-deprived make more mistakes than those who are well rested,” Stafford says. “We know that optimizing sleep optimizes performance. Our resources here at the Crozer-Keystone sleep centers can help." 

Crozer-Keystone’s three sleep centers are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is dedicated to setting standards and promoting excellence in sleep medicine health care, education and research.

To schedule a prompt appointment with a Crozer-Keystone sleep specialist, call 1-888-SLEEP03 (1-888-753-3703) or visit http://sleepcenters.crozer.org.

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