For Teens, Chronic Insomnia Leads to Unstable Moods and Behaviors
> 3/25/2008 8:09:29 AM

The crucial role that a regular night's sleep plays in facilitating mental, physical and emotional regeneration is well established. The body is a resilient thing and it can quickly recover from a late evening or two, but a series of sleep-deficient nights compromises the efficiency of nearly every bodily function including, most importantly, the brain's ability to regulate mood and cognitive affect. When one fails to get the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended by relevant authorities, he or she begins to build a sleep deficit that only increases with each fitful night and cannot be effectively counteracted until one falls into a more comfortably regulated pattern. Large sleep deficits can have an especially undesirable effect on young people whose developing bodies require even more time for rest and rejuvenation (8.5-10 hours a night). And new research unsurprisingly names uneven sleep patterns as both cause and effect of emotional, chemical, and behavioral problems.

Dramatic changes in one's sleep schedules or an overall shortage of total accumulated hours will, with time, act to derail cognitive functions. Many college students given to all-night cram sessions would like to dispute that truth, but if they repeat their behavior often enough they will certainly experience exhaustion and subpar performance as major side-effects. But undergrads and late-shift workers are exceptions to the insomnia rule; most affected individuals, for one reason or another, simply cannot sleep well. Chronic insomnia is a condition that may be both genetic and environmental in origin, and it renders a sound sleep nearly impossible for millions. In addition to grogginess, memory problems, and a greater susceptibility to infectious disease, these accumulated sleep deficits also affect a decline in the body's ability to produce serotonin, and that trend adversely affects the brain's regulation of mood. These two factors are, in fact, very much intertwined: previous studies have found the same genetic malformation to lie at the root of both chronic insomnia and bipolar disorder.

Teens are particularly susceptible to the adverse influence of chronic insomnia, and researchers believe it to be just as common as more frequently cited concerns like depression and drug use. While less apparently malicious, its influence may be even more central to the behavioral problems experienced by so many of its adolescent victims. And the equation, of course, works both ways: those who have trouble sleeping are far more likely to suffer from the former conditions as well. A recent study examining adolescent insomnia drew its data from Teen Health 2000, a lage-scale, community-based survey containing demographic data, psychiatric interviews and 12 month follow-ups from 11-17 year-olds across the country.

Researchers found the problem to be deep-seated and surprisingly common: 1 in 20 warranted an initial diagnosis, but 27% reported one or more symptoms, half of that sample still had problems at the follow-up interview one year later, and more than 1/4 of that final group qualified for chronic insomnia as defined by the APA. Among those so affected, research indicated a "twofold to fivefold" increase in reports of personal problems like depression, drug use, subpar academic performance, and abnormal conduct/behavioral issues. Its true that some of these issues may have been compromising the subjects' sleep patterns before the survey even began, but researchers attempted, through hour-long personal interviews, to control for such outside influences. The larger point: behind many adolescents prone to moodiness and misbehavior lurks a considerable sleep deficit. The histrionic up-and-down lives of teens can make consistent sleep schedules difficult to maintain, but an ability to better regulate rest  will often help to remedy other health and quality of life issues. Experts recommend going to bed and waking at the same times every day to ensure regularity, but teens sleeping in on a Saturday (within reason) may not be such a bad thing.

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