According to a study performed by the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 45 percent of adolescents in the United States do not obtain an adequate amount of sleep.

According to a study performed by the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 45 percent of adolescents in the United States do not obtain an adequate amount of sleep. It also concluded in 75 percent of those cases insomnia was to blame for the lack of rest. Another 31 percent of adolescents only receive what is considered a borderline acceptable amount of sleep. In addition, 20 to 30 percent of children younger than 5 suffer from some type of sleep disorder.
Insomnia is the inability to get to sleep or stay asleep and is commonly found in adults, but studies have shown an increase of the disorder in children. What causes insomnia can vary, especially when it comes to kids. In adults, a large contributing factor to insomnia is stress, but it’s hard to fathom that a child could have enough stressors to keep them awake at night. As it turns out, one in three suffers from chronic stress, and stress is still the number one cause of insomnia even in kids. Stress can manifest in many ways: too many obligations, high expectations, homework, dating and, to top it all off, stressing out about being able to sleep at night.
“Sleep disturbance is a common problem among teenagers,” Dr. Sheila Gorman of Family Practice Associates in McPherson said. “As teens are growing and changing rapidly, their bodies need extra sleep, and they often seem to be recreational sleepers, choosing to sleep at every spare moment.”
Another contributing factor to adolescent insomnia is their body’s circadian rhythm or their biological clock so to speak. It is naturally set for a schedule that doesn’t jive with their obligations.
Children’s Mercy Hospital recommends that children 5-7 years old get 11 hours of sleep a night, 8-9 year olds should receive at least 10.5, 10-11 year olds 10 hours, 12-14 year olds 9.5 and 15-20 year olds should receive nine. For children 8 to 11 years old, it may not be so difficult to get them to go to bed early.
For teenagers, it’s a little different. The average teenage receives 7.5 hours of sIeep on school nights. Studies show that they receive progressively less the older they get, with 12th graders averaging 6.9 hours.
If a teen has to be up at 6 a.m. for school, then they ought to be heading to bed around 9 p.m. This may be difficult because studies show that a teenager’s brain actually releases the sleep-cycle regulating hormone melatonin later at night than it does in children and adults. This makes it significantly harder for teens to fall asleep earlier. There is even a name for when a person’s daily activities are affected by this sleep-cycle; it’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome or “night owl” syndrome.
“In any setting, kids are not going to function as well as they would if they were getting enough sleep,” Sylvia Ehrlich, McPherson High School guidance counselor said. “Students overall attitude is going to be less appropriate.”
Combating adolescent insomnia can seem like a daunting task. Not many parents, or doctors for that matter, are in favor of sleep inducing medication in children. A lot of the sleeping medications available now have a lot of side effects, such as dependency, weight gain, drowsiness and strange dreams. Medications to treat childhood insomnia range from over-the-counter medications like Benedryl  and melatonin to neuroleptics and tricyclic antidepressants.
“Sometimes schedules or stimulants are to blame,” Gorman said. “Lifestyle choices are always the place to start when dealing with sleep problems at any age.”
Most specialists prefer tackling adolescent insomnia with developing healthy sleep habits and holistic chronotherapy before resorting to medications. The Children’s Mercy Hospital Sleep Diagnostic Program recommends beginning with regulated bedtimes and wake-up times as well as a regulated bedtime schedule in which the child does the same routine every night before bed. They also recommend regular physical activity every day, though not within two hours of bedtime. In addition, for children suffering from insomnia, they should not drink caffeine or have meals within a few hours of bedtime, and one hour prior to bedtime lights should be dimmed and kids shouldn’t perform any stimulating activities like video games or watching TV.
None of these method is a surefire way to cure a child’s insomnia, and it is recommended that if a child’s sleep issues are causing trouble in daily activities, a doctor’s advice is the best route to go. For more information on adolescent insomnia visit www.childrensmercy.org or www.sleepfoundation.org.