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Addressing Insomnia in Teens

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep for children ages 6-13 years old and 8-10 hours per night for individuals ages 14-17 years old. This seems like an ever more daunting task as we live in a society with increasing external pressures to maintain high GPA's, along with extracurriculars like sports, band, and leadership activities. While the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued statements indicating that schools should start no earlier than 8:30am, these recommendations have been largely ignored as evidenced by local high school start times as early as 7:20 am. However, it is important for parents to recognize how much sleep plays a role in mental health and how some conditions are more prone to having problems with insomnia. For example, conditions such as depression and anxiety are highly correlated with insomnia. Additionally, up to 73% of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) endorse sleep issues pertaining to initiating and maintaining sleep.

There are a variety of interventions that can be utilized to address insomnia. The first is providing education about establishing good sleep patterns, such as keeping electronics out of the bedroom at night, no televisions, iPads etc. to elicit unecessary light. Electronics should be put away at least an hour before bed. Bedtime should be consistent at the same time each weeknight. Weekends for most adolescents include the chance to sleep in, but parents need to set limits on this as well. Letting your adolescent sleep all day actually does more harm than good. It interferes with his/her natural circadian rythym or natural sleep clock and can make insomia worse. Once good sleep hygiene practices are in place, if this does not improve insomnia symptoms, other interventions can be considered such as melatonin, or other sleep medications that require an evaluation from your child's pediatrician or child psychologist. Psychologists can also work with your child/adolescent on an evidenced-based intervention known as CBT-I, which involves short sessions (4-8) with a trained professional to learn, implement, and follow up on techniques such as sleep restriction, relaxation and relapse prevention, and further education about the sleep process. If your child/adolescent is having ongoing difficulties with insomnia then you may want to consider how a psychologist can help get things back on the right track.


Insomnia in Adolescence

Innessa Donskoy and Darius Loghmanee, 2018

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