Off the Charts: Measuring Teen Sleepiness

Not long ago, when I walked out to my clinic’s reception area to greet my next patient, I found her sitting with a magazine on her lap—fast asleep. From her bedraggled look—hair uncombed, shirt button missing, belongings scattered at her feet—and her ability to fall asleep in a noisy waiting room in the middle of the afternoon, I was pretty sure she was a youngster with a major case of sleep deprivation.

But she didn’t agree. When we chatted in my office and I asked her why she had come to see me, she said her pediatrician had sent her because she hadn’t found anything that would account for the moodiness and drop in grades that her parents were worried about. But Mara herself was sure nothing was wrong. She told me she felt perfectly fine and wasn’t sleepy at all.

As part of her evaluation, I asked Mara to keep a sleep log (see page 133 for a sample of my sleep log) and come to my sleep lab to take a daytime napping test. And, lo and behold, the results showed that Mara was not just sleepy but pathologically sleepy.

Why didn’t she know this? And why couldn’t her parents or her pediatrician recognize it?

A big problem with sleep deprivation is that it’s not always easy to spot—either by the person who’s experiencing it, like Mara, or by the people in that person’s life. And that goes for adults as well as adoles-

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