Any event that causes a person to feel that their safety or their life or the lives of others are at serious risk is considered a traumatic event. The resulting response manifests in many ways — emotionally, psychologically and/or physically. Teenagers are already experiencing a wide range of emotions, so if your teen experiences a traumatic event, his/her response may seem overwhelming to both of you.
Anxiety, depression and anger are common reactions to trauma, and for teenagers, any or all of these can cause sleep problems. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know whether your teen is suffering from trauma and whether their response is normal. The following are signs of trauma that may affect a teen’s sleep:
- Flashbacks can cause a high level of anxiety and result in trouble falling asleep.
- Nightmares often frighten teens awake and make falling back to sleep difficult.
- If a traumatic event occurred at night, then your teen may feel more anxiety at night or in the dark.
- Fear or the need to feel constantly on alert may make sleep difficult.
- Severe sadness or depression can increase tiredness; if teens sleep for long periods during the day, then they may have trouble sleeping at night.
In recent years, Boys Town has seen an increase in trauma-related referrals, and I attribute this to improved awareness of trauma and its causes. With the escalation of terror attacks around the globe, children and teens are continually exposed to disturbing scenes and stories, which may produce inaccurate mental images and irrational fears. Media bombardment after major tragedies can evoke traumatic responses in youth.
Keep in mind, however, that what is traumatic to one child or teen may have little effect on others. Trauma is highly personalized to the individual, and not all negative events or situations result in a traumatic response.
If you suspect that your teen may be suffering from trauma, talk to them and try to make them feel safe. If your teen is experiencing a long-term reaction lasting more than two weeks, then Boys Town can help. Call our national hotline at 1.800.448.3000 for more information or to talk to one of our professionals.