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Tired Teens May Be a Smoke Signal for Parents


WebMD Health News

Aug. 8, 2000 -- It's not unusual for teen-agers to burn the candle at both ends on occasion. But if it seems it's gotten to the point where your teen is always acting burned out, a new study suggests there may be some possible underlying causes to the chronic sleepiness, like smoking or depression.

And the problem may go beyond just being tired; in fact, there are a significant number of teens whose persistent sleep disturbances, for whatever reason, may have profound consequences. Previous studies show skipping school, low academic achievement, and drug and alcohol abuse can all result from not getting enough sleep, according to Christi A. Patten, PhD. Patten and some colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have published their findings on teen sleep disturbances in the August issue of Pediatrics.

Patten and colleagues looked at a group of nearly 8,000 teens who were surveyed by telephone in 1989. The teens were asked questions about whether they had problems sleeping, and if the problems were frequent. They also were asked about depression, smoking, rebelliousness, and other general questions, such as their race, age, gender, school performance, and family income. Sleep disturbances included insomnia, perceived difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, or early morning waking.

The same group was questioned again in 1993. Patten found that of those who said they had sleep problems in 1989, just more than half still reported those problems and an additional one in five had frequent sleep problems. Of the nearly 4,900 teens who reported no sleep problems on the first survey, 28% had developed sleep problems and one in 10 had frequent sleep problems in 1993.

Females were found to have more sleep disturbances than males, and Asians more than whites or blacks.

But after looking at all the other factors, such as age, sex, race or ethnicity, and family income, Patten writes there were "three significant predictors of development of sleep problems and/or frequent sleep problems: rebelliousness, depressive symptoms, and cigarette smoking.Smoking and depression were the two most notable findings in the study, Patten says. Those who took up the habit after the first survey and those who still smoked in 1993 had nearly double the rate of frequent sleep problems compared to those who never smoked. Teens who had quit smoking had lower rates of frequent sleep problems, and nonsmokers had the lowest rates of sleep disturbances

Similar associations were found for depression and sleep disturbances. Those who became depressed after the first interview, and those who had been depressed and remained so, had nearly double the rate of sleep disturbances reported by smokers.

Patten says that sleep problems may not always be easy for a parent to detect. John L. Carroll, MD, agrees. He says it's typical for teens to sleep past noon or languish away the dog days of summer in a semi-awake state.

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