Health&Care Mall Interview: Dr. Alan Lynch on Teen Sleep Problems
Sleep problems are the most common disorders among teens caused by various factors. Talking to Dr. Alan Lynch, current pediatrician at Stanford HealthCare specializing in sleep disorders in teenagers, we’ll try to understand what there is behind the problem that affects nearly one-third of adolescents this or that way.
Dr. Lynch, thank you very much for coming over and discussing the issue. Let’s start with this: what are the most common causes of sleep problems in teens?
Thank you for the question, Janis. The problem exists and certainly should be discussed. Well, in most cases sleep problems in adolescents are caused by changes in their circadian rhythm – that’s how our internal biological clock is called. Being overloaded with his/her daily schedule or chatting/texting too much and as a result going to bed late at night and waking up early in the morning an adolescent acquires a kind of sleep deficit over time that, in its turn, results in poor concentration, poor study and poor work performance. In many cases such emotional problems like depression and aggression may arise as well causing in their turn even bigger problems.
So, if the major cause here lies in affecting one’s circadian rhythm, then there is no particular treatment except proper arrangement of one’s schedule and attempts not to break it most of the time, right?
Well, in most cases, yes. Stopping such missed-sleep nights and returning to a well-organized schedule would be the solution. However, there are other cases when sleep problem may appear as a sign of some underlying condition.
That really sounds a bit terrifying especially since children are concerned. What are these conditions and are they hard to treat?
Well, it surely depends on the condition. But, no, they are not hard to treat if the right approach is taken by all the parties involved: a child, his/her parent and their physician.
So, there are five most common conditions that may affect teen’s sleep. These are insomnia, PLMD (or periodic limb movement disorder), RLS (or restless legs syndrome), gastric reflux disease and obstructive sleep apnea. Each of these diseases can affect the sleeping pattern severely. I won’t confuse you dwelling on each and every detail of these; just state the most important to know about.
Thus, from time to time teenagers can suffer from brief periods of insomnia that don’t require any particular treatment but, if insomnia lasts over a month or longer, it is called chronic and this state certainly requires treatment prescribed by a healthcare provider that will be aimed at combating the major causes of insomnia: stress, physical discomfort like headache or stuffy nose, mental-health problems, etc. Periodic limb movement disorder reveals itself in involuntary movements like twitches or jerks and restless legs syndrome comes in the form of burning, tingling, itching or cramping.
In most cases these disorders are successfully treated with iron deficiency medications or some others, if it is not a deficiency of this mineral that causes the disorder. GRD usually occurs at nights and interferes with the sleep cycle when stomach acids flow back into the esophagus causing this way irritation and inflammation; again, this disease requires the respective treatment. And obstructive sleep apnea is probably the most dangerous disease because it may cause a child to stop breathing. It is dangerous in its symptoms while the major cause of it – enlarged tonsils or adenoids are usually easily removed surgically causing no problems later on.
Indeed, this is quite a diverse number of diseases. Some are rather clear to notice while others seem more challenging to reveal. So, perhaps, there are signs that a parent should pay attention to, aren’t there?
Certainly, there are signs and symptoms some of which are evident, while others not. Here both parents and healthcare provider should be a bit diligent to obtain the necessary information, especially when something that a teenager considers personal is involved.
Firstly, the parent should give notice to such signs as obvious exhaustion, mood swings, irritability, depression, inability to concentrate, weight gain and the like; all these signs can signal that there is a problem. Secondly, if the signs are obvious, talk to the child to get more information about things that go wrong or may disturb; he/she can think that e.g. burning, tingling and itching are not the things to pay attention to. Finally, get to the physician who will establish the diagnosis and decide on the treatment required, and that’s it.
Well, everything seems obvious as usual: consideration, care and timely help and treatment, right?
Yes, this is how it is and should be.
Dr. Lynch, thank you very much for helping us to understand how sleep problems in teens may appear and how to immediately act whenever there is anything disturbing.
You’re welcome. Thank you for your interest!
Interview by Canadian Health&Care Mall – www.canadianhealthcaremalll.com