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Sleep Disorders in Adolescents

Sleep benefits the body and soul. How important is sleep during adolescence, what to do when the teens suffer from sleep disorders, and how can the problem be resolved

The traumatic events of October 7 and the ensuing war have left its impact in many ways, including among teens. One of the most common effects is sleep disorders.

Insomnia is defined as difficulty in falling asleep or remaining awake until the late hours, whereas sleep disorders may occur following stressful events. Most of us are unaware of the impact of sleep disorders, and teens in particular do not understand the importance of sleep and how it affects mood, health, ability to concentrate and even social abilities.

Facts about sleep

  • Sleep is vital to our function and growth, with the growth hormone being secreted while sleeping.
  • Sleep expedites the healing of injuries.
  • Sleep strengthens the immune system.
  • Sleep improves our ability to focus when studying.
  • Sleep improves our accuracy and response time during sports and our level of alertness while driving.
  • Sleep improves mental health and the ability to cope with challenges and difficulties in life.
  • A good sleep will make it easier to develop social relations.

What is considered a good sleep for adolescents?

The older we get, the less our body needs sleep. 13-17 year-old teens need 8-10 hours.

What may affect sleep?

The most common sleep disorders is engaging in an activity that causes us to go to sleep too late.

  • Screen time: cell phones, tablets, laptops or desktops, and television. We are addicted to screens and feel that we cannot put the cell phone down so as to not miss anything. Some fall asleep with the television turned on, a move that delays sleep as we are busy with social activity on the internet.
    Late screentime causes us emotional overload due to (occasionally problematic) content on the media as well as exposure of the eyes to the blue light of the screen that suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin.
  • Drinking coffee or energy drinks in the afternoon or evening: the caffeine in these substances prevents fatigue, making it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine and energy drinks may interrupt the continuity of sleep due to the need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Smoking: the nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant that prevents people from falling asleep and harms sleep.
  • Alcohol: initially makes you drowsy but after several hours, once it has metabolized in the body, causes people to wake up and experience a light, poor sleep. Drinking in the late hours can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night (and a more frequent need to use the bathroom).
  • Change in sleep environment or sleeping in an unfamiliar location: many young people and their families were forced to leave their homes due to damage caused to their homes or due to concerns related to the war. In general, within several days, we become accustomed to change but problems such as noise or light in the bedroom, different bed and linens, and being cut off from friends and normal occupations will make sleep difficult and may cause sleep disorders.

Typical sleep disorders during adolescence

  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night or early in the morning that impairs function during the day.
    Following a traumatic event such as a terrorist attack or war, a significant increase in the incidence of insomnia (as well as nightmares) was recorded. Even without a traumatic event, up to 25% of teens may suffer from insomnia.
  • Most teens in high school tire in the late hours. They get up late and make up the hours on weekends. This is not enough for everyone. Some fall asleep in the classroom and find it difficult to function.

Insufficient sleep among teens may cause:

  • Diminished attention, memory, IQ and grades.
  • Increased lateness and absences from school
  • Increased risk of developing anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Obesity.
  • Increased tendency of diabetes.
  • Impaired athletic ability.
  • Impaired sensory regulation and increased violence.
  • Increased risk of traffic accidents and recreational accidents.
  • Increased willingness to take risks.

How can we prevent and resolve sleep disorders?

  • Extend the duration of sleep: go to sleep earlier.
  • Exposure to sunlight in the morning and in the middle of the day for approximately fifteen minutes each time: light resynchronizes our internal clock and advances the internal clock so that we feel tired in the evening. Light also provides resistance to exposure to light from screens and other sources of light in the evening, so that the internal clock will not be pushed back to a later bedtime.
  • Paying attention to signs of fatigue, such as feeling of “heavy” eyelids, “pecking” or dozing as well as difficulty in focusing when reading or performing any other activity.
  • Despite the desire to not miss a conversation or social activity (fear of missing out - FOMO), try to avoid reading text messages before going to bed, as it may make falling asleep difficult.

Exercise and other tips

  • 60 minutes of exercise per day helps people fall asleep faster.
  • Yoga, stretches and meditation are recommended before sleep.
  • If you feel that exercise is a stimulant, begin at an earlier hour.
  • A nap is recommended before 13:00.
  • Bathe before going to sleep.

When should you see a doctor?

  • If you snore loudly or wake up feeling suffocated.
  • If you get up because of legs moving when you sleep (you will usually find the bedding scattered everywhere).
  • You have nightmares or your sleep is interrupted.

If the difficulty does not resolve, it is important to know that a sleep doctor or psychologist can offer you behavioral therapy.

Do you wake up and find it difficult to fall asleep again?

  • If you are stressed, try various relaxation methods, such as breathing that includes exhaling longer than inhaling: for example, inhaling and counting to 4, holding the air and counting to 7, then exhaling and counting to 8.
  • Gradual muscle relaxation: contract the feet and release them, contract the muscles of the trunk and release them, and so on, until you finally contract and release the muscles of the face and head.
  • If you are unable to fall asleep, do not stay in bed. Get out of bed, use a small light source and move to a nearby room, where you can perform relaxing activities, such as reading or listening to music. Do not overwhelm your eyes and brain with screentime. When you feel drowsy, go back to bed.