Alarming Number of Teens Using Sleep Aids, Doctors Warn of Potentially Risky Results
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2018 Nov 08
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.
Teens don't get enough sleep and one in four cope by medicating.
Less than three percent of teens get the recommended 8 or 9 hours of sleep a day, according to a recent Pediatricsstudy.
So, robbed of slumber, a quarter of them seek relief in herbal, over-the-counter pills and prescriptions.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that 28 percent of teens ages 13-18 tried some type of medication to help them sleep.
- 16 percent said they tried over-the-counter sleep medicines like NyQuil or a "PM” formulation of pain reliever or cold medicine.
- 14 percent said they used antihistamines like Benadryl.
- Five percent said they used prescription sleep medicine.
Even more turned to natural or herbal remedies, specifically melatonin, at 36 percent.
The Mott poll released in September surveyed 1,018 parents about strategies for dealing with their teens sleep issues.
Alarming to poll co-director Sarah Clark was that only a quarter of parents of teens with sleep problems said they or their teen had ever talked to a doctor about their issues.
Clark said 10 percent of parents of teens with sleep problems attributed the issues to a health condition or medication. If parents or teens had a conversation about sleep with doctors, they could adjust medications or address root causes like chronic pain in student athletes.
Dr. Amrita Dhanjal, a family medicine physician and behavioral health specialist with Terros Health in Arizona, agreed doctors need to do a better job of addressing sleep, which is talked about a lot during infancy but not much afterward.
Between "vaccinations and the sex talk," the "burden" is on doctors, Dhanjal said, "to bring it up as a question every single time. Unless we are asking them, then problems are not going to be unmasked."
Doctors seem to agree that teens taking medication to sleep is risky. But they disagree on which — "natural" supplements, prescription or over-the-counter — remedies pose the most harm.
Dhanjal, for example, believes prescription medications are the safest because they are tested and regulated, whereas supplements and other natural remedies don't get the same scrutiny.
"There are many supplements that get labeled natural and herbal but they are not FDA approved. This does not equate to a safe product for adults, but especially for children where drugs can get through the blood-brain barrier and have long-term effects. There are no studies to tell us otherwise. That is what I really worry about," she said.
Dhanjal is no fan of over-the-counter drugs either, saying that again, she worries about the impact on the teen's brain from extended use.
On the other side of the fence is Dr. Sheila Tsai, section head of Sleep Medicine at National Jewish Health. She recommends natural supplements over prescription sleep aids.
Tsai said prescription medication carries a higher risk of side-effects and addiction because teens can build up a tolerance quickly.
She says that melatonin can be safe if used as directed and so can an occasional use of an antihistamine or Tylenol PM. Tsai defined occasional use as no more than 1-2 times a week and for not more than 1-2 months.
"I do caution against taking any medications in general because of the teens' developing brain," Tsai said. "They need to seek help from a primary care doctor or a medical provider."
Parents are more aligned in their views, according to the poll. Among them, 60 percent believed that natural/herbal sleep remedies were the safest. They were less positive about over-the-counter sleep medicine (23 percent said it was safe) and were not at all certain about prescription sleep medicine (6 percent viewed them as safe).
Parents reported doctors recommended prescription sleep medication more often than over-the-counter medications.