Tired teen is probably OK TO YOUR HEALTH


December 22, 1992|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Contributing Writers

Q: My 16-year-old seems tired all the time. He has a lot of trouble getting up in the morning for school, and, if I let him, he sleeps until 1 or 2 in the afternoon on the weekend. Is there something wrong with him?

A: Many parents express similar concerns to yours, but, fortunately, chances are your son is quite normal. Many high school students probably get less sleep than they need: Although they may go to bed at 9 or 10 o'clock, books, magazines, TVs, VCRs or phones may keep them awake until midnight or later. If they have to get up at 6:30 or 7 the next morning, they have slept significantly less than the eight to nine hours per night that they need. When you consider that many adolescents also participate in a variety of after-school activities, it's no wonder they need more sleep. When the weekend arrives, their social life may continue to keep them up late, but they can then afford to sleep late on Saturday and Sunday in an attempt to catch up.

There may be a biological basis for what you've observed as well. Our sleep patterns are partly controlled by sleep centers in the brain. Recent research suggests that as adolescents mature, their sleep centers do not signal the need for sleep until late at night. Hence, teen-agers may not be able to fall asleep before 11 or so even if they go to bed with the lights out. Since they still have to get up early, they wind up being sleep-deprived. They don't fully awaken until half the school day has passed.

There are a few medical conditions, such as anemia, an underactive thyroid gland or depression, that can first manifest themselves as being tired. However, if your son has plenty of energy for all his activities and social life, chances are his being tired relates to a lack of sleep whatever the cause.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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