The University Record, September 9, 1998

Teens' abnormal sleep patterns could signal serious disorder

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

There's a difference between being tired and feeling sleepy all the time. If your teenager works late, stays up late studying or is out with his friends, but then rises early for school, your adolescent is probably tired due to lack of sleep. But if your teen gets the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep a night and is still sleepy, he or she may suffer from a sleep disorder, says Ann E. Rogers, associate professor of nursing who specializes in sleep disorders.

In her clinical practice at the Sleep Disorder Center, Rogers has treated people as young as age 12 who suffer from any one of more than 80 known sleep disorders.

"Because of their busy lifestyles, people in their late teens and the college-age person are probably the sleepiest of any population in the United States. We should be able to recognize the signs that draw the line between normal and abnormal sleep patterns,'' she says.

If your teen sleeps through the night, sleeps soundly for eight to nine hours and isn't sleepy during the day, then he or she exhibits normal sleeping patterns. On the other hand, if your teen takes frequent naps for hours on end--even after a full night's rest--always feels tired, falls asleep in class, suffers from a loss of concentration, falls asleep while driving and is doing poorly in school, then your teen exhibits abnormal sleep patterns, Rogers says.

"If they're getting enough sleep, they should be able to stay awake all day and feel energetic, but if they're getting enough sleep and are still having trouble, they should see their physician and ask for a referral to a sleep disorder center,'' Rogers says.

Aside from failing in school, sleep disorders can strain relationships with family and friends who often mistake someone who is sleepy for being lazy or on drugs.

"Teens are embarrassed by it. It's hard for them to accept because it's probably the first time in their lives they've had a chronic disease. They feel as if nobody understands this thing. I've had patients who flunked out of college and lost jobs. People view them as lazy. 'You can stay awake if you really wanted,' people tell them. It's a lifetime battle, but once it's treated with medications, people with this disease can lead a normal life. It does not have to be handicapping," Rogers says.

Sleep disorders, which are not psychological, usually manifest in the late teen years. Narcolepsy, for instance, is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and a sudden and uncontrollable, though often brief, sleep attack. It is a deep sleep sometimes accompanied by paralysis and hallucinations and is considered a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some experts suspect it may be related to puberty. It can be inherited, but it can also be successfully treated with proper medication.

For most teens who suffer from narcolepsy or other sleep disorders, pinpointing the disease can be difficult and it can go undiagnosed for years. Many people who suffer from sleep disorders aren't accurately diagnosed until their 40s, Rogers says.

To learn more about narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, visit Rogers' Web site at www.umich.edu/~nursing/narcolepsy/.


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