Most people are aware that there's a problem when teens get little sleep. They do worse at school, their mood suffers, and they can't enjoy life. Until recently, lack of sleep was a primary concern for the parents of adolescents in the US. Between long commutes, early start times, after school activities, homework, and screen time, many teens were simply not getting enough sleep.
Enter COVID-19. Suddenly, teens were freed from their busy schedules. They no longer had activities and no longer had commutes. For many teens, online schooling meant many more hours in a day to do what they wanted, and for many of them, what they want to do is sleep. All the time. Many parents have complained that during the lockdown, they hardly see their kids out of bed. Could they be getting too much sleep?
According to Dr. Michelle Drerup of the Cleveland Clinic, the answer is yes. In the first days of the pandemic, sleepy teens may have simply been adjusting to new schedules or eliminating sleep debts. However, at this point, if your teen is sleeping 8-10 hours a day and still complaining that they're tired, it's time to look for other causes.
15% of people with depression suffer from atypical depression. In this form of depression, they can still enjoy things and happy events can make them happy, but their baseline is 'depressed.' Signs of atypical depression include increased appetite and oversleeping, in part because the patient sees time in bed as an escape from their problems. If you suspect that your teen has atypical depression, talk to their doctor. The pandemic has been very stressful to children and teens, and with no end date in sight, good mental health care is essential.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Depression can cause a teen to sleep too much, but a lack of high-quality sleep can also cause depression. If you suspect your teen is depressed, ask for a sleep evaluation as well. If a child isn’t experiencing restful sleep, they won’t be able to process emotions or deal with regular setbacks. Fixing the sleep may fix their mood. In addition, sleep apnea and depression are often comorbid, and OSA can make depression harder to treat. By getting the appropriate interventions for sleep issues, you can increase the effectiveness of the depression treatments.
Disrupted Circadian Rhythms
When schedules get disrupted, circadian rhythms get disrupted. It's possible that a teen who seems to spend all day in bed may have issues with their circadian rhythms. Teens naturally switch to a later bedtime, and artificial light and screens can push that bedtime back even further. Add in late-night conversations with friends, gaming, or binge-watching streaming video, and a teen who “went to bed at 10” who sleeps until 2 in the afternoon may only be getting 10 hours of sleep. They just went to bed just before you got up.
To solve this problem, start working on better sleep hygiene with your child. Have a hard and fast time for screens off –after that time, they can entertain themselves the old-fashioned way, with a book. (You may have to disable the Wi-Fi late at night). Try to get them out into the sunshine every day, preferably in the morning. The best way to do this is to find activities or outings which work with local COVID restrictions, but give them something to look forward to. If they still complain, tell them that they can take a nap later.
After a week or so of fewer screens and night and more sun during the day, you may be able to shift your teen’s circadian rhythms enough that you occasionally see them while the sun is in the sky.
When a teen is sleeping all the time, it can be a sign of a major problem. Even when it’s simply bad scheduling, it’s time for you, as a parent, to step in and help your child learn to live a healthy life.
For more information on children and sleep hygiene, try Dr. Dassani’s Healthy Sleep Revolution podcast.