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Common Sleep Disorders in Teens

How Sleep Works continued...

NREM sleep has four levels or stages. Stage 1 sleep, the lightest stage, is the transition from being awake to deeper sleep. Stage 2, intermediate sleep, accounts for 40% to 50% percent of your sleep time. Stages 3 and 4, 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 gastrointestinal functions and 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.

What's Keeping You From Getting Good Sleep?

Often, getting to bed an hour earlier can resolve sleep issues and help you feel alert and productive. But sometimes there are other reasons for disturbed sleep. Here are some medical conditions that cause sleep problems:

  • Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Snoring occurs when airflow is limited and the soft tissues in the back of the throat vibrate. While snoring is annoying and causes poor sleep, it can be a symptom of a more serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). OSA involves severe narrowing of your airway. Your lungs do not get enough fresh air, so the brain wakes you up just enough to catch your breath and unlock the air passage. If you snore loudly or have excessive sleepiness, talk to your doctor.
  • GERD. Some teens suffer with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which generally occurs at night when you are lying down and interrupts your sleep. Normally, a muscular valve between the esophagus and the gastric system prevents stomach acids from backing up into the esophagus. In GERD, this valve does not work properly. The stomach acids "reflux" or back up into the esophagus. This causes irritation and inflammation, and it can interfere with the sleep cycle.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome. Restless legs syndrome is a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs that creates an irresistible urge to move. It sometimes starts between ages 11 and 20. Not only does it disturb sleep, it is also linked with involuntary jerking movements of the legs during sleep, called periodic leg movements of sleep (PLMS).

Get Better Sleep

If you try to relax and follow good bedtime "hygiene" yet still cannot get enough restful sleep, talk with your doctor. If your doctor suspects you might have a sleep disorder, you might be referred for a sleep study, called a polysomnography. The sleep study will help determine if you have apnea, restless leg syndrome, or some other problem. All of these disorders require specific therapy that your doctor can prescribe.

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