|Sleep Disorders in Kids: Symptoms & Solutions—
Is your youngster having trouble sleeping?
We all know that restful sleep is necessary
to heal and repair the body. But recent
health reports suggest that many kids in
the U.S. are chronically sleep deprived. For
instance, in a National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) Sleep in
America poll, researchers found that more than two out of
every three kids ages 10 and under have experienced some
type of sleep problem.
There's a price to pay for sleep problems in kids. In a revealing
study at Northwestern University Medical Center, scientists
followed the sleep patterns of 510 kids between 2 and 5 years
old. The study showed that less sleep at night means more
behavioral problems during the day.
Other studies have linked poor sleep in kids with bad grades in
classes such as math, reading, and writing. In addition, some
studies show that sleep disturbed kids have more depressive
symptoms and anxiety disorders.
As with adults, there are all sorts of reasons why kids don’t
sleep well. Some of those reasons are more serious than
others. But if you’ve got a problem sleeper (or two) in your
house, there are ways to help everyone, including the moms &
dads, get a good night’s sleep and feel alert and productive the
Are there different categories of sleep problems in kids?
Sleep problems are classified into two major categories. The
first is dyssomnias. In kids, dyssomnias may include:
• Inadequate sleep hygiene
• Insufficient sleep syndrome
• Limit-setting sleep disorder
• Sleep-onset difficulties
• Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
The second class of sleep disorders is parasomnias. Examples
of common parasomnias include:
• Night terrors
• Rhythmic movement disorders such as head banging or
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a disruption of the sleep cycle
that includes difficulties with getting to sleep,
difficulty staying asleep, and possibly early
morning awakenings. In kids, insomnia can
last a few nights or can be long-term, lasting
weeks. Kids with sleep anxiety may have
insomnia. Other insomnia triggers include daily or chronic
stress, pain, or mental health issues.
If your youngster has insomnia, here are things you can do:
• Establish a regular bedtime routine that allows your
youngster time to relax before the lights go out.
• If insomnia continues, talk to your youngster’s doctor
about ways to resolve the sleep problem.
• Try to identify stressors. For example, additional
homework, problems with friends, or a move to a new
neighborhood can cause nighttime anxiety.
What does it mean if a youngster snores loudly?
Slightly more than one out of every 10 kids snore habitually.
Snoring can be caused by different problems. For example,
chronic nasal congestion, enlarged adenoids, or huge tonsils
that block the airway can all cause snoring.
With snoring, the muscles supporting the opening of the upper
airway in the back of the youngster’s throat relax during sleep.
Extra tissue in the palate and uvula -- the fleshy piece between
the tonsils -- vibrates with each breath. These vibrations
actually cause the sound we call “snoring.” In some kids, there
is a tendency for the airway to close at any point along this
area. Narrowing of the airway causes turbulence and the noises
Snoring can be harmless. But it can also result in poor quality
of sleep and changes in the youngster’s sleep-wake cycle.
Because of restless sleep and frequent awakenings, there is
diminished daytime alertness. That can lead to dramatic
alterations in mood and energy. A few kids who snore may
have a more serious problem called obstructive sleep apnea or
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem in kids today.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, symptoms of
sleep apnea in kids include:
• Gasping or choking
• Nighttime snoring with occasional pauses
• Sleep disruption
Kids with snoring and OSA often have large tonsils. Many are
obese and/or have an allergic disease. Sleep apnea is
associated with the following consequences:
• Abnormal growth and development
• Behavioral and learning problems
• Daytime sleepiness
• Hyperactivity or ADHD
Treatment for kids who either simply snore or who have OSA
• Managing allergic rhinitis
• Nasal steroids
• Removal of the adenoids and tonsils -- as a last resort
• Weight loss
Sometimes, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is
used for kids with obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP involves using
a machine that delivers a stream of compressed air through a
nasal mask to the youngster’s airway to keep it open during
Are sleepwalking and bedwetting common sleep problems in
Unusual behaviors during sleep -- sleepwalking, teeth grinding
(bruxism), and bedwetting -- are common among kids. For
example, as many as 40% of kids between the ages of 3 and 7
have walked in their sleep. Also, sleepwalking is more common
in boys than in girls. Sleepwalking may result from an immature
central nervous system or from being overly tired. It usually
happens about an hour or two after the youngster falls asleep.
Sometimes sleepwalking can persist into adulthood. Because
sleepwalkers can be harmed, moms & dads need to protect the
youngster from injury.
Bedwetting may continue well into the elementary years for
both girls and boys. While bedwetting is sometimes due to
anxiety or other emotional issues, in most kids, nothing is
wrong. They will eventually outgrow their bedwetting. On the
other hand, although it’s uncommon, bedwetting can be the
result of an infection or an allergy.
What are night terrors?
With night terrors -- also called sleep terrors -- the youngster
has a sudden arousal from sleep with extreme agitation,
screaming, crying, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils. Like
sleep walking, night terrors seem to be linked to an immature
central nervous system and are often outgrown. These sleep
terrors usually begin after age 18 months and disappear by age
If your youngster has night terrors, it’s important to talk to
family members and assure them the episodes are not harmful.
Make sure the youngster’s room is safe to protect against an
injury during a night terror. It also helps to stay on a regular
sleep regimen and to manage stress so the youngster is not
anxious at bedtime.
Are nightmares common in kids?
Nightmares are the frightening dreams that happen during
rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They are a common part of
At the toddler stage, kids begin active dreaming where it’s
often hard to distinguish reality from imagination. Preschoolers
and elementary school-age kids may experience nightmares
that are a result of everyday emotional episodes. For example,
arguments with classmates or siblings, academic stress, or fear
of separation can cause nightmares.
Most kids have had a nightmare at some time. According to the
National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 3% of
preschool and school-aged kids experience frequent
nightmares. The worst nightmares seem to occur around the
age of 6. As your youngster matures, his bad dreams will
Can kids get restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common problem in kids 8
years of age and older. This neurological sleep disorder causes
a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs (and sometimes in the
arms) that creates an irresistible urge to move.
Studies show that restless legs syndrome may have a strong
genetic component. Kids with sleep tremors or restless legs
syndrome may have difficulty falling asleep. That can result in
daytime fatigue and irritability. According to recent studies,
ADHD and depression may be more common in those
diagnosed with RLS. Talk to your youngster’s pediatrician
about ways to treat RLS in kids.
What can I do to help my youngster get over sleep problems?
If your youngster is sleep walking, wetting the bed, or
experiencing other sleep disturbances such as night terrors,
talk with your youngster’s doctor. Sometimes, emotional stress
is the culprit. In most cases of emotional stress, the problem
can be easily resolved with a few behavioral interventions.
In addition, watch your youngster as he sleeps to determine a
pattern in his sleeping and possible snoring or sleep apnea. If
your youngster suffers from allergies or asthma, make sure she
is taking her medication properly. Again, your youngster’s
doctor is the best source for treatments for your youngster’s
What is a sleep study?
An overnight sleep study, or polysomnography, may be
recommended for your youngster, especially if he has excessive
daytime sleepiness, problems staying asleep, or OSA. The sleep
study will help determine if your youngster has a diagnosable
problem such as pure snoring, obstructive sleep apnea,
restless legs syndrome, or another sleep problem. These
disorders may require specific therapy that your youngster’s
doctor will prescribe.
What to do if your younger kid can't sleep—
Put bedtime bugaboos and your kids to
rest with these expert solutions.
Problem: Your kid gets up repeatedly
after you've put him to bed, calling,
"Mom, I need a glass of water."
Why it happens: Kids make bedtime curtain calls for many
reasons. Preschoolers may be asserting their independence:
"You can't make me stay in bed!" Or they stall because they're
afraid of the dark. The most common reason, though, is that
you've slipped from a consistent routine you had when they
How to rest easy: Before-bed routines are important for kids of
all ages, says Lynn D'Andrea, M.D., director of the Pediatric
Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin,
in Wauwatosa. "Kids start to think, I've done my routine --
now it's bedtime," she says. The evening ritual could be as
simple as reading your kid a story and wishing him a good
night. Another tool is a bedtime pass, a card your kid can turn
in for one nighttime request. Preschoolers also benefit from
rewards (like extra playground time) for staying put.
Problem: Your kid is scared -- of the boogeyman or even
a house fire.
Why it happens: As kids wind down, it's normal for anxieties to
surface. Your preschooler is apt to worry about what lurks in
the shadows, while an older kid may have relatively realistic
fears -- of robbers, for instance.
How to rest easy: A night-light to chase away gloom and a few
squirts of anti-monster spray (tap water in a specially marked
bottle) are often enough to settle down a young one. "These
are imaginary fears, so imaginary solutions work well," says Jodi
Mindell, Ph.D., an associate director of the Children's Hospital of
Philadelphia Sleep Center and a coauthor of "Take Charge of
Your Kid's Sleep." Don't worry about reinforcing anxieties by
acknowledging them. If an older kid is a worrier, ban scary
movies and books at night. If he frets about intruders or
natural disasters, chat with him about these issues well before
bedtime. "For example, ask, 'What would you do if we had a
fire?'" says D'Andrea. "Having an escape plan for an emergency
could also help him relax."
Problem: Your kid can't fall asleep, and then it takes a
marching band to wake him up in the morning.
Why it happens: Kids can have insomnia for any number of
reasons, from drinking caffeinated drinks at night to
schoolwork anxiety. But you might also have a night owl in
your flock: a kid whose internal clock keeps him up.
How to rest easy: Revisit the basics. Make sure your kid has a
bedtime routine. If you notice that he can't fall asleep until late
(say, after midnight) and sleeps in when allowed to sleep on his
own schedule, he may have delayed sleep-phase syndrome,
which is more common in teens, notes Judith Owens, M.D.,
director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at the Hasbro
Children's Hospital, in Providence, and a coauthor (with Jodi
Mindell, Ph.D.) of "Take Charge of Your Kid's Sleep." This can
be tough on both your kid and family members who are on
more traditional schedules, so ask your doctor for a referral to
a sleep specialist. Professionals can help shift your kid's sleep
time closer to normal.
Tip 1: Have your kid avoid screen time (like the TV and the
computer) for at least half an hour before bed.
Tip 2: Turn down the lights to help his body prepare for sleep.
Come morning, open the drapes and turn on the lights. (Bright
light can help reset the body clock.)
Tip 3: Make sure he gets up at a consistent time (although an
hour later on weekends is OK) so he'll be tired at the same time
Problem: Your kid crawls into bed with you in the middle
of the night.
Why it happens: Maybe you let her sleep in your bed when she
was younger or after she had a bad dream.
How to rest easy: "To make a change, have a plan and be
consistent about it," says Mindell. "That typically involves
returning your kid to her bed every time she gets up." If you
do this, consider hanging a bell from your doorknob so you can
hear her if she sneaks back in. Or, if your little one is afraid of
being alone, let her camp on your floor in a sleeping bag for a
while (maybe even a few weeks) and switch her back to her
bedroom when she adjusts.
Tip: Does warm milk really work? Yes! Milk contains tryptophan,
which can help induce sleep, just like Thanksgiving turkey does.
Problem: Your kid has night terrors.
Why it happens: Your kid is overtired.
How to rest easy: Well, as easy as you can while your sleeping
kid yells with her eyes open! Don't worry: As scary as these
episodes are for you, she won't remember them. "Often your
kid will get agitated if you touch her, so just stand silently in
her room to make sure she's safe," says Mindell. Most episodes
are over in less than 20 minutes, and kids usually outgrow
them by age six.
Problem: Your preschooler wets the bed.
Why it happens: Even the toilet-trained won't be dry regularly
until after age six. "Younger kids' bodies aren't ready to hold
urine as they sleep," says Linda M. Dairiki Shortliffe, M.D., chair
of the department of urology at the Stanford University School
How to rest easy: Disposable briefs and a waterproof mattress
cover may be your best bets. And even if she is dry most
nights, expect accidents when she is sick, away from home, or
Problem: Your older kid (seven or up) wets the bed.
Why it happens: "It could indicate a urinary-tract infection,"
says Shortliffe. However, about 5 to 10 percent of school-age
kids (boys, mostly) suffer from bed-wetting.
How to rest easy: "A good initial solution is a bed alarm, which
wakes up the kid after an accident," says Shortliffe. (It is
attached to sensors that detect wetness.) "But it can take
about four months to really see results, since the kid's brain
has to be trained to wake him up before he needs to use the
bathroom," she explains. A short-term option for unusual
circumstances (camp, a slumber party) is desmopressin, a
synthetic hormone that makes the bladder create less liquid
at night. The good news: By adolescence, his body should
produce enough vasopressin, a natural antidiuretic, to dry up
his bed-wetting problem.
What To Do When Your Child
Has Problems Sleeping
Ask The Parent Coach—
How much sleep do children need? My 8-year-old ADHD
son is only getting about 5-6 hours per night currently. Is
this enough? If not, do you have any suggestions about
how to help him get more?
The amount of sleep a youngster needs varies depending
on the individual and certain factors, including the age of the
youngster. Following are some general guidelines:
1-3 Years Old: 12 - 14 hours per day--
As your youngster moves past the first year toward 18-21
months of age he will lose his morning nap and nap only
once a day. While toddlers need up to 14 hours a day of
sleep, they typically get only about 10. Most kids from about
21 to 36 months of age still need one nap a day, which may
range from one to three and a half hours long. They typically
go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and wake up between 6
and 8 a.m.
3-6 Years Old: 10 - 12 hours per day--
Kids at this age typically go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m.
and wake up around 6 and 8 a.m., just as they did when
they were younger. At 3, most kids are still napping while at
5, most are not. Naps gradually become shorter as well.
New sleep problems do not usually develop after 3 years of
7-12 Years Old: 10 - 11 hours per day--
At these ages, with social, school, and family activities,
bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12-
years-olds going to bed at about 9 p.m. There is still a wide
range of bedtimes, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., as well as total
sleep times, from 9 to 12 hours, although the average is
only about 9 hours.
12-18 Years Old: 8 - 9 hours per day--
Sleep needs remain just as vital to health and well-being for
teenagers as when they were younger. It turns out that many
teenagers actually may need more sleep than in previous
years. Now, however, social pressures conspire against
getting the proper amount and quality of sleep.
The above is for kids without any disorders. Kids with ADHD
may not sleep as long – and that’s O.K. But there are some
things you can do.
There are several reasons kids with ADHD may have
problems falling asleep at night. While it is true that the
biological makeup that creates the ADHD problem in your
youngster doesn't shut off just because it is bedtime, there
may be other problems causing your youngster's sleep
disorders. If your youngster is having severe problems
falling asleep, a doctor's visit regarding this issue may be
a good idea.
There is some talk amongst psychiatrists and sleep
researchers regarding whether the sleep disorders
exhibited by kids with ADHD might be caused by the
medications they are on. This would seem on the surface
to be a given; however, a large percentage of kids with an
ADHD diagnosis who are not on medications also exhibit
sleep problems. While studies into the areas of sleep and
sleep disorders have advanced over the last few decades,
we are far from understanding completely what goes on
Now, with that said, let's look at what we can do to help our
ADHD youngster sleep at night, ideas we do know work or
at the very least help.
As I have said in previous articles, consistency in routine is
a key factor in the ADHD youngster's behavior. For example,
as soon as summer vacation hits, my son loses the ability
to sleep in only a few days. Let's face it: summer vacation is
a huge change in our youngster's schedule.
One idea, which has had good success in our home, is
the continuation of study period during the summer break.
A single hour that remains consistent has had an
impressive effect on my son's summer sleeping habits. If
you can continue any other scheduled periods that were in
effect prior to summer vacation this can also have a positive
effect on sleep habits and the general well being of your
In our house we have 'movie night', which is a scheduled
evening where we go to the video store, rent a movie, make
popcorn, and sit down together to watch the movie, every
week, no matter what. Keeping that day during the summer
vacation also helped the sleeping issues my son was
There are kids, such as my friend's daughter, who are
classic "night owls". She lays her head on the pillow and
her brain starts going. She is old enough to describe it to
us and it sounds as if she is actually experiencing a peak
of heightened creativity. Therefore, she has trouble falling
asleep at night and getting up in the morning.
This state is commonly called 'Delayed Sleep Phase,' which
is common in teens. Right now, the suggestion given to
parents is to keep the scheduled wake up time as much as
possible. The thought is that the nocturnal sleep pressure
and bedtime will be able to advance.
Another element, which has worked with this particular girl,
is background noise such as music (music with no lyrics or
words). Jazz puts her right out, and also works very well with
my own son. My personal theory regarding this phenomena
is that the music is complicated enough to gain their
attention, but repetitive enough to lull them to sleep. As the
auto industry likes to say every chance they get; your
mileage may vary.
Natural sounds such as rain, waves, or river schemas often
help for background white noise. Some other suggestions
are electric fans and radios tuned to an off-channel (static),
turned down low.
Younger kids are often subjected to our schedules as we
struggle with jobs, longer hours, and rush projects. This
often results in variable bed times, late afternoon naps, too
many nap hours (or not enough), and a variety of other
inconsistencies in our youngster's sleeping life. Such
schedules often result in the youngster being unable to
sleep through the night, nightmares, and in some cases
bed-wetting. While I too live in the real world where my time
is not often under my own control, it is a challenge we need
to face as parents. This challenge often requires some
creative answers and scheduling changes.
Some other things to avoid are beverages and snacks with
caffeine in them (chocolate for example) after 4 or 5 pm.
Other common barriers to our youngster's sleep are
reported as being: incomplete chores or homework
assignments, television shows that have a great deal of
arguing between the characters or complaining, and even
news programs. ADHD kids are often hypersensitive to
problems and conflicts, and tend to worry about these
events even if they are fictional in nature.
Video games just before bedtime are a huge distraction
to the ADHD youngster trying to wind down for bedtime,
especially some of the new games with enhanced
graphics. Try playing them with your youngster for a few
hours and then lie down and try to sleep afterwards; you will
see what I mean. The images continue to flash through our
minds and across our mental landscape; just imagine what
it does to a mind already on creative over-drive. Trying to
take my son's Playstation 2 away isn't happening. However,
we did decide that the afternoon is a better time to play, and
we set up scheduled play hours during the weekends.
Game time became a small and looked forward to event
with his friends, which helped not only his sleep, but also
with his social interactions.
Limiting physical activity before bedtime is another good
idea. We use to have the harmless, but incredibly fun pillow
fight on weekend evenings, and I have to say it was difficult
to give that up, so we didn't. We have it a little earlier, and
then do some reading before bed time.
Consistency in my youngster's schedule and mine has
proven itself for many years. Strive for that, and avoid high-
stimulation events before bedtime. You will find your
youngster sleeps better and his overall well being will
Ask The Parent Coach—
I’m not a parent. Actually I’m 17 years
old and still live at home. My question
is how can I sleep better? I have a big
problem getting to sleep …and
staying asleep …but then I can’t get up for school. This is
causing a bunch of friction between me and my mom. Any
advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Sleep is food for the brain. During sleep, important body
functions and brain activity occur. Skipping sleep can be
harmful — even deadly, particularly if you are behind the
wheel. You can look bad, you may feel moody, and you
perform poorly. Sleepiness can make it hard to get along
with your family and friends and hurt your scores on school
exams, on the court or on the field. Remember: A brain that
is hungry for sleep will get it, even when you don’t expect it.
For example, drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel
cause more than 100,000 car crashes every year. When you
do not get enough sleep, you are more likely to have an
accident, injury and/or illness.
• Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for
both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it
is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
• Many adolescents suffer from treatable sleep
disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs
syndrome or sleep apnea.
• Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air
you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat. It can
even help you to eat better and manage the stress of being
• Adolescents need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each
night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough).
Most adolescents do not get enough sleep — one study
found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on
• Adolescents tend to have irregular sleep patterns
across the week — they typically stay up late and sleep in
late on the weekends, which can affect their biological
clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
Not getting enough sleep or having sleep difficulties can:
• Cause you to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods like
sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain.
• Contribute to illness, not using equipment safely or
• Heighten the effects of alcohol and possibly increase
use of caffeine and nicotine.
• Lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as
yelling at your friends or being impatient with your teachers
or family members.
• Limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve
problems. You may even forget important information like
names, numbers, your homework or a date with a special
person in your life.
• Make you more prone to pimples. Lack of sleep can
contribute to acne and other skin problems.
• Don’t eat, drink, or exercise within a few hours of your
bedtime. Don’t leave your homework for the last minute. Try
to avoid the TV, computer and telephone in the hour before
you go to bed. Stick to quiet, calm activities, and you’ll fall
asleep much more easily!
• Establish a bed and wake-time and stick to it, coming
as close as you can on the weekends. A consistent sleep
schedule will help you feel less tired since it allows your
body to get in sync with its natural patterns. You will find that
it’s easier to fall asleep at bedtime with this type of routine.
• If you do the same things every night before you go to
sleep, you teach your body the signals that it’s time for bed.
Try taking a bath or shower (this will leave you extra time in
the morning), or reading a book.
• Make sleep a priority. Review Adolescent Time in this
toolkit and keep the Adolescent Sleep Diary. Decide what
you need to change to get enough sleep to stay healthy,
happy, and smart!
• Make your room a sleep haven. Keep it cool, quiet and
dark. If you need to, get eyeshades or blackout curtains. Let
in bright light in the morning to signal your body to wake up.
• Most adolescents experience changes in their sleep
schedules. Their internal body clocks can cause them to fall
asleep and wake up later. You can’t change this, but you
can participate in interactive activities and classes to help
counteract your sleepiness. Make sure your activities at
night are calming to counteract your already heightened
• Naps can help pick you up and make you work more
efficiently, if you plan them right. Naps that are too long or
too close to bedtime can interfere with your regular sleep.
• No pills, vitamins or drinks can replace good sleep.
Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt your sleep,
so avoid coffee, tea, soda/pop and chocolate late in the day
so you can get to sleep at night. Nicotine and alcohol will
also interfere with your sleep.
• Try keeping a diary or to-do lists. If you jot notes down
before you go to sleep, you’ll be less likely to stay awake
worrying or stressing.
• When you are sleep deprived, you are as impaired as
driving with a blood alcohol content of .08%, which is illegal
for drivers in many states. Drowsy driving causes over
100,000 crashes each year. Recognize sleep deprivation
and call someone else for a ride. Only sleep can save you!
• When you hear your friends talking about their all-
nighters, tell them how good you feel after getting enough
If adolescents need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep to do their
best and naturally go to sleep around 11:00 pm, one way to
get more sleep is to start school later.
Adolescents' natural sleep cycle puts them in conflict with
school start times. Most high school students need an
alarm clock or a parent to wake them on school days. They
are like zombies getting ready for school and find it hard to
be alert and pay attention in class. Because they are sleep
deprived, they are sleepy all day and cannot do their best.
Schools that have set later bell times find that students
do not go to bed later, but get one hour more of sleep per
school night, which means five hours more per week.
Enrollment and attendance improves and students are
more likely to be on time when school starts. Parents and
teachers report that adolescents are more alert in the
morning and in better moods; they are less likely to feel
depressed or need to visit the nurse or school counselor.
While everyone is accustomed to having a bad morning
here and there – feeling irritable, unhappy or even sad,
NSF's 2006 Sleep in America poll found that many
adolescents exhibit symptoms of a depressive mood on a
frequent if not daily basis, and these adolescents are more
likely to have sleep problems.
The NSF poll calculated depressive mood scores for each
of the 1,602 poll respondents by measuring adolescents'
responses to four mood states (using a scale of "1" to "3"
where 1 equals "not at all" and 3 equals "much"):
• Felt hopeless about the future
• Felt nervous or tense
• Felt unhappy, sad or depressed
• Worried too much about things
The results showed that about half (46%) of the
adolescents surveyed had a depressive mood score of 10
to 14, 37% had a score of 15 to 19, and 17% had a score of
20 to 30; these scores are considered low, moderate and
Most notably, those adolescents with high scores ranging
from 20 to 30 were more likely than those with lower scores
to take longer to fall asleep on school nights, get an
insufficient amount of sleep and have sleep problems
related to sleepiness. In fact, 73% of those adolescents
who report feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also report
not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively
sleepy during the day.
While many adults may think that adolescents have things
easy or don't have much to worry about – the opposite
seems true according to the NSF poll. Most adolescents
were likely to say they worried about things too much (58%)
and/or felt stressed out/anxious (56%). Many of the
adolescents surveyed also reported feeling hopeless about
the future, or feeling unhappy, sad or depressed much or
somewhat within the past two weeks of surveying.
Research shows that lack of sleep affects mood, and a
depressed mood can lead to lack of sleep. To combat this
vicious cycle, sleep experts recommend that adolescents
prioritize sleep and focus on healthy sleep habits.
Adolescents can start by getting the 8.5 to 9.25 hours of
sleep they need each night, keeping consistent sleep and
wake schedules on school nights and weekends, and
opting for relaxing activities such as reading or taking a
warm shower or bath before bed instead of turning on the
TV or computer.
If parents and adolescents know what good sleep entails
and the benefits of making and sticking to a plan that
supports good sleep, then they might re-examine their
choices about what truly are their ‘essential’ activities.