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Eyes wide shut

Tight schedules leave children with no time to sleep, fuelling an epidemic of sleeplessness in adolescents.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 26, 2011 22:42 IST
Rhythma Kaul

It seems kids have been hit the hardest by the sleep epidemic: two in five patients undergoing treatment in Delhi’s sleep clinics are below 16 years.

The trouble, say experts, is that unlike adults, children do not realise their sleep patterns are abnormal. The lack of obvious signs delay diagnosis further.

Nishtha Kothari’s eight-year-old had a sleep disorder that kept her really busy. “He was abnormally hyperactive, beyond anyone’s control,” recalls Kothari, 34.

Despite being a doctor herself, it took her three years to realise that her son’s hyperactivity was related to unsound sleep due to enlarged tonsils. “He would keep tossing and turning through the night, but I didn’t realise he had a disorder. I took him to a doctor when his music teacher complained he had a problem singing,” she says. He was was operated for tonsils at Max Super-Speciality Hospital last week.

There are 80 types of sleep disorders, of which snoring and breathing through the mouth are the most common among children. “Of the 70 cases of sleep disorder I treat in a month, about 30 are in children. Most parents come to us for problems such as snoring, bed-wetting, mouth breathing etc, not realising it’s related to unsound sleep,” says Dr Sanjay Manchanda, department of sleep medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Snoring, breathing through the mouth, interrupted breathing, sleep-walking, sleep-talking and nightmares are some indicators that the child is not able to sleep properly.

The problem group is the growing section of teenagers who are unknowingly depriving themselves of sleep due to due to distractions such as surfing, phone chats, watching television or studying till late. These habits take a toll on sleep patterns, resulting in sleeping for less than five hours a day.

Children need seven to eight hours of sleep a day. But every third child is sleep deprived, found a study done by Dr J C Suri, head, department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. For the study, 9,000 school-going children in Delhi and the NCR were surveyed, and the findings were published in the Indian Journal of Sleep Medicine.

“Since the wake-up time of students is not decided by when they go to bed, students often don’t get adequate sleep.

Most can’t even compensate with an afternoon nap because of tuitions lined up through the day,” says Dr Suri. The result is chronic fatigue, mood swings, irritable behaviour, poor concentration and related cognitive problems.

Going by the footfalls at sleep clinics, teens are the hardest hit. “Of late, one in 10 patients I get is a teenager who has trouble sleeping at night and feels excessively sleepy through the day, largely because of late nights,” says Dr Manchanda.

Erratic sleep hours over a long period of time can result in permanently shifting of their sleep cycle called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), a condition that may need to be treated properly using medicines.

“Hormonal changes combined with late nights can wreck the metabolic system. Parents should get sleeplessness treated if sleep deprivation lasts for over a couple of weeks,” says Dr Manvir Bhatia, sleep specialist at Medanta-The Medicity.

(Names of patients changed to protect their privacy)