Ask The Doctor:
Teenage Sleepiness & Fatigue...
"I know teenagers need several hours of sleep, but my kid is tired all the time. He falls asleep in class, on the bus, watching TV. He's even fallen asleep at the dinner table. He goes to bed early, too. What's going on?"
Pediatricians frequently encounter teenagers with symptoms of sleepiness and fatigue. Up to 40% of healthy teens experience regular daytime sleepiness (a tendency to fall asleep). Fatigue, the perception of low energy following normal activity, is reported by up to 30% of well teens.
Not surprisingly, the usual cause of excessive sleepiness during the day is not getting enough quantity or quality of sleep at night.
Most teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night to maintain normal daytime alertness.
Puberty changes a teen's internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts to feel sleepy and awaken.
The adolescent described in this week's question is said to be going to bed early, implying that they are getting plenty of sleep. But before working this teen up for chronic fatigue, there are several issues that need to be addressed first.
Even though they are going to bed early, are they actually going to sleep? Are they actually on the internet or on the phone and texting when you think they are sleeping? Are they having trouble falling asleep despite their best efforts to relax in a dark, quiet bedroom? Do they wake frequently during the night? Do they snore loudly with pauses in their breathing at night consistent with obstructive sleep apnea? Are they taking any prescribed medications that can interfere with quality sleep?
So assuming he is indeed going to bed and falling asleep in a reasonable amount of time (less than 30 minutes) then one of the following causes may explain his daytime sleepiness. Obstructive sleep apnea is very common. This causes sometimes several hundred times during the night, interrupting sleep. Narcolepsy is a disorder that can make people feel severely tired during the day, often falling asleep suddenly, anytime, anyplace. Depression can cause disrupted sleep patterns, resulting in poor quality sleep and daytime fatigue.
Medical conditions like epilepsy and asthma can cause teens to sleep poor as well.
Because of these serious potential issues, persistent daytime fatigue, despite the appearance of getting plenty of sleep, needs to be evaluated by your child's physician.