My 13 year old son is having problems with sleep. He is often awake until 1:00 am watching television or playing on the computer. He seems more moody than usual and complains of having nightmares. His school work has declined but he insists that he is not tired enough at night to fall asleep. I’m worried that he might be stressed or depressed. What should I do?
Sleep issues are quite prevalent with tweens and adolescents. Difficulty with sleep can be a symptom of a medical, emotional or developmental issue. Just as often, it can be a result of ongoing poor sleep habits. I would first consult your pediatrician to rule out any medical issue that may be contributing to his inability to fall asleep at a reasonable time.
It may also be possible that your son is struggling with an emotional or social issue that he hasn’t told you about. Sit down with him at a comfortable time and talk about how things are going at school with friends and teachers. Consider whether he has had any changes in his friendships or attitudes toward school. Is it possible that family relationships or situations are bothering him? Be frank with your concerns when you talk to him. Make an effort to be sensitive to any issue that he brings to your attention, even if it seems minor to you. Offer him the opportunity to talk with a counselor or therapist if he is worried, anxious or depressed. Excessive worrying, as well as mood changes often happen in the evening and just prior to sleep.
Instill and insist upon consistent sleep habits. Eliminate caffeine and energy drinks from his diet after noontime. He should be retiring to his room at the same time each evening. I do not recommend watching television or using the computer just prior to bedtime. Adolescents often have difficulty turning off the television and can get “caught up” in a program very easily. I encourage teens to read an enjoyable book or magazine before bed. Cell phone use and texting should be kept out of the bedroom during sleep time. Be stern and consistent with setting sleep and bedroom limits.
Eight to ten hours of solid sleep is necessary for most adolescents. Signs of poor sleep include irritability, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, fatigue, compromised immune system, and problems waking up in the morning. All of these symptoms contribute to struggles with school work, catching colds and viruses, and irritability with friends and family.
If his sleep difficulties continue despite good sleep habits and a visit to his pediatrician, I would recommend a mental health evaluation to explore any emotional causes. Depression and anxiety can often be manifested through sleep problems. Fortunately, treatment options like psychotherapy and/or medication are available. Be sure to consult with your physician before using any over the counter or herbal sleep remedies.