Sleepiness normal for teens, but can be a sign of more

  • By Andrea Brown, Special to The Herald
  • Monday, June 11, 2012 9:55pm
  • Life

Don’t worry if your teen is in a bleary-eyed zombie funk when he staggers out the door for school at the crack of dawn.

He’s wired to be tired.

“Teen biorhythms are different. They have to fit into an adult world of going to school at 7,” said Dr. Edward Jacobs, pediatrician at The Everett Clinic in Lake Stevens.

“In a teenage optimal world, they’d go to school from noon until 6, and stay up until 2 a.m.”

But, he said, there’s a difference between normal tiredness and serious fatigue.

Tiredness is basically a symptom of “the external scheduling that goes on in life.”

Teens lead crazy-busy lives of school, sports, work and socializing. It takes a toll.

“Fatigue is more than just ‘I’m tired,’ ” Jacobs said. “You can feel tired, but still be able to carry on.”

Fatigue tends to interfere with daily functions and drag on.

“Parents try to decide, at what point should I be concerned?” Jacobs said. “I tell most parents, no matter what, you know your kid better than anybody else, so if you’re concerned, see a doctor.”

Jacobs said fatigue and headaches are associated with more visits to physicians every year than any other chronic symptoms in this age group.

The reasons for fatigue often result from the interplay of physical, emotional and situational causes.

Common causes: Alcohol and other drug use. Depression. Sleep disturbances. School avoidance. Infections and post-infection syndromes from mononucleosis and other viruses. Reactions to medicines. Abnormal thyroid. Blood problems, such as anemia or leukemia.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the culprit or culprits, Jacobs said, but an exam and lab work start the process of elimination.

“Even if I can’t tell them what it is, I can tell them what it isn’t,” he said. “That often is very reassuring to parents.”

The other good news: With time, teens outgrow being exhausted teens.

And turn into exhausted adults.

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