08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Adolescents Losing Sleep Over "It"

"It" just keeps getting worse. And "it" is robbing our adolescents of the sleep they need to learn, be healthy, and probably feel good about themselves. What is "it"? A combination of things:

  • Obesity
  • Technology abuse
  • Caffeine abuse
  • Sleeplessness

Now that's a combination for poor health. Any one of these items can be addressed successfully, but together they blend to create a terribly difficult mountain to climb.

This week the big news networks reported on how much fatter we are all getting, from boomers to children. Not a single state shows signs of slimming down, and obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states over the past year.

Obesity rates among kids have skyrocketed. Now add to that another study that emerged this week indicating that obesity among teens is associated with less sleep. Two notable culprits: technology and sleep issues.

This is not a surprise when you think about it. The heavier you are, the higher your risk for sleep disorders like apnea and disruptive episodes of snoring--whether you're a teenager or fully-fledged adult. The more you stay plugged into technology tools late at night, the harder it can be to settle down and go to sleep.

I've talked about this vicious cycle before. Being overweight has its own host of health challenges and poor sleep over time then adds more layers of risks and further health challenges that are like nails in a coffin.

So if it's all a big Molotov cocktail, what is the solution? 

Make it simple. I say, pick one. Start with what you think is the easiest task of all and work your way down:

  1. Set a boundary for consuming caffeine. I like to recommend people limit caffeine significantly after 2 pm. Switch to green tea. Watch out for sodas and medications that also contain caffeine. I can see no reason why an adolescent should be ingesting caffeine, so for them it should be ZERO!
  2. Go low-tech after a specific hour at night, or within two hours of bedtime. Shut down email, stop Internet surfing, turn off the cell phone.
  3. Establish good sleep hygiene. If you think you suffer from sleep apnea, speak with your doctor. Sleep is not a luxury, and it shouldn't be that difficult to achieve on a regular basis.

If we don't see the trends in our waistlines change soon, we won't see changes in how well we sleep and feel day in and day out. Doesn't a world where everyone gets restful, rejuvenating sleep sound downright dreamy?

We'd have a happier, healthier planet.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor

This article about sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.