Excessive sleepiness in adolescents may indicate more than just lack of sleep

Adolescents and young adults are often excessively sleepy. A new technical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH) says that although sleepiness is rather common in this age group, pediatricians should pay special attention to patients who exhibit evidence of excessive sleepiness because it could indicate an underlying medical or mental health condition.

Sleep research data indicates that adolescents require 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night. However, the majority of adolescents aren't getting that, which is why excessive daytime sleepiness in this population has become a widespread problem. Inadequate sleep and excessive sleepiness can have a profound negative effect on health, school performance, cognitive function and mood, and has also been associated with other serious consequences such as increased incidence of automobile crashes.

According to the report entitled, "Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies," most cases of excessive sleepiness result from insufficient sleep caused by insufficient time in bed and are associated with intrinsic changes in the sleep/wake cycle. Also involved are external pressures to go to bed later and wake up earlier. Although these factors are the most common reason for lack of sleep, they may not be the only reason. Depression, obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, medications, and stimulants such as caffeine can also cause impaired sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.

The report advises pediatricians to ask adolescent patients about their sleep patterns. Questions should include:

  1. Do you have trouble falling asleep at bedtime?
  2. Do you feel sleepy a lot during the day? In school? While driving?
  3. Do you wake up a lot at night?
  4. What time do you usually go to bed on school nights? Weekends?
  5. How much sleep do you usually get?
  6. Has anyone ever told you that you snore loudly at night?

The answers to these questions may trigger additional questions that can help determine whether or not the patient is suffering from chronic sleep deprivation or an underlying sleep disorder.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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