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Common Sleep Disorders in Teens

Sleep disorders happen in every age group -- infants to teens to the elderly. 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.

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

Luke had obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes periods when breathing stops (apneas), 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 teens are sleep-deprived. They may stay up late surfing the Internet, watching favorite 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 goes into overdrive, making it impossible to relax.

How Much Sleep Is Enough for Teens?

On average, teens need about 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night. If you fall asleep at 10 p.m., you'd need to sleep until 7 a.m. to meet this requirement. That's not always possible, especially if you have to be up before dawn to catch the bus or make swim team practice.

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

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 teens 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 auto 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 (nonrapid eye movement) sleep.

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