Extreme Fatigue in Teenagers: How to Spot It and Prevent It

From school work to sports practice and extracurricular activities, teenagers typically have a lot on their plates—not to mention the hormonal shifts of puberty. So it may come as no shock that nearly 80 percent of adolescents don't get enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Extra exercise can help your teen improve their sleep quality. (Image: Getty/Tony Anderson)

While your teen's fatigue may be linked to puberty and lifestyle, there are several other underlying health issues that may be the cause. Introducing stress-management techniques or more exercise can help improve the quality and length of your child's sleep.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue

Extreme or chronic fatigue is a difficult condition for doctors to diagnose and fully understand, according to Nemours Children's Health System. Both a physical and psychological condition, chronic fatigue and its symptoms can pervade all aspects of a teen's life. Often, this condition results in:

  • irritability
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • trouble sleeping
  • difficulty concentrating

Extreme fatigue also frequently leads to poor performance in school or extracurricular activities.

What Causes Extreme Fatigue in Teens?

Chronic fatigue can be caused by environmental or lifestyle choices, but extreme tiredness may also indicate an underlying health condition. Often, fatigue is common in teenagers due to puberty-related hormonal changes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hormonal imbalances can throw off the circadian rhythm or internal clock. The time at which teenagers usually feel sleepy and wake up begins to shift. Coupled with a demanding school schedule, this can leave little time for quality rest (teens need between eight to 10 hours each night).

One of the most common health conditions that causes extreme fatigue is mononucleosis (mono), according to the Boston Children's Hospital. Mono, often known as the "kissing disease," is a virus contracted through saliva transmission. Despite the name, mono is often spread when sharing beverages or food, and can also cause fever, sore throat or headache.

Anemia is another possible cause of extreme fatigue in adolescents, according to the Boston Children's Hospital. Anemia is commonly caused by iron deficiency and is often experienced by women who lose iron when they menstruate. This condition can cause teens to feel tired or hinder their ability to perform in school sports or activities.

Another potential cause of your child's fatigue may be depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, teenage depression can cause a decline in energy and difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.

If you believe your teen may be experiencing any of these health conditions, you should consult a doctor immediately.

How to Prevent or Treat Extreme Fatigue

If you notice your teen experiencing extreme or chronic fatigue and have ruled out potential health conditions, there are several measures you can try.

  1. Reduce stress. Considering the packed schedules most teens endure, stress management or stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, are a great way to help your child get more sleep, recommends Nemours Children's Health System.
  2. Get moving. Regular exercise can also help improve a teen's sleep. According to a May 2019 study published in Scientific Reports, teens that completed one extra hour of exercise per day fell asleep 18 minutes earlier and slept 10 minutes longer. The researchers also found that adding an hour of exercise not only improved sleep length but quality as well.
  3. Reset the clock. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is also possible to help your teen reset his or her internal clock, which may get thrown off by hormonal imbalance. To help restore a healthy circadian rhythm, create a consistent sleep schedule that includes going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.
  4. Nix screens and caffeine. Limiting caffeine and blue light exposure are two other methods the Mayo Clinic recommends for improving sleep. Too much caffeine or screen time causes the body to stay awake. In general, minimizing exposure to electronics, especially around bedtime, can help improve sleep time and quality.
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