Problems sleeping – information for teenagers

Photo of a teenager holding a cellphone (PantherMedia / kivitimof)

If you often feel so tired and exhausted that you have trouble doing everyday tasks during the day, you are not getting enough sleep. It is estimated that nearly 20 out of 100 people have trouble sleeping. But the good news is that there are a few things you can do about this problem on your own. Read about the different options here.

Most teenagers can get by on about eight hours of sleep per night. But this is just an average. How much sleep you personally need might be different. The sleeping times given here refer to what is known as "total sleep time." This starts the moment you first fall asleep and ends once you are truly awake and have got up. Periods of wakefulness during the night are subtracted from the total. You do not need to sleep soundly for eight hours every night.

It's not normal to often have great difficulty getting up. By this we don't mean sometimes still being tired in the morning and wanting to get a few more winks. It's only a problem if you regularly feel really beat first thing in the morning and can hardly make it out of bed. Teenagers often go to bed late, even during the week, and then sleep in on the weekend. This kind of irregular sleeping pattern can lead to sleep problems.

What might disturb my sleep?

If you’ve been sleeping poorly for a while now, you might have insomnia. This is the case if you haven't been getting enough sleep more than three nights per week for a period of over one month. Insomnia can have different causes:

  • Too much alcohol: Alcohol is one of the most common causes of insomnia. Many people fall asleep faster when they have had something to drink, but their sleep is much less restful. Drinking less alcohol helps you to sleep better and feel more rested in the morning.
  • Sleepwalking, nightmares, worries and fears.
  • Snoring and breathing problems: If you snore, or if you share a room with a brother or sister who snores, you might keep waking up at night.
  • Grinding your teeth: You might also grind your teeth at night, and that could be the reason why you are sleeping poorly. Teeth-grinding is called bruxism.

Long-term insomnia can also be a sign of an illness. If you and your parents aren't sure what is causing your sleep problems, you can talk to a doctor. He or she can help you find out why you are sleeping poorly.

But chances are your insomnia isn't caused by a medical problem. If that's the case, find out what you can do about it below.

What can I do to start sleeping better again?

Lots of things you might do in the evening can make it hard for you to wind down and prevent you from falling asleep quickly. If you want to do something about your sleep problems, it is worth trying to avoid these kinds of things in the evening. For instance, it might help to

  • only listen to relaxing music before going to bed and keep from talking on the phone or playing computer or mobile phone games,
  • choose drinks like water, herbal sodas, juices or herbal tea in the evening rather than stimulants like cola, energy drinks, coffee and black or green tea,
  • not smoke before going to bed because the nicotine in cigarettes can have a stimulating effect,
  • do sports earlier in the evening instead of right before going to bed.

It can also help to not worry too much if it takes a while for you to fall asleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night. These worries could keep you from sleeping. You might sleep better if you

  • make sure that your room is quiet and dark,
  • regularly go to bed at the same time,
  • get up again if you can't fall asleep,
  • only use your bed for sleeping, and not for reading, watching television or eating,
  • always get up at the same time in the morning.

What if my parents and I can't agree on when my bedtime should be?

Parents and children often disagree about when it's time to go to bed. On the one hand, it's important that you have a regular sleeping pattern and that you get enough sleep. If you go to bed late and already have to be at school at eight in the morning, you will still be tired in the morning and find it hard to concentrate.

On the other hand, not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. You will notice yourself whether you have had enough sleep to feel rested and refreshed in the morning. If you have the feeling that you can make do with less sleep than your parents think, you should talk to them about it.

What can I do if I don't start sleeping better?

If your sleep problems are troubling you and you often feel tired and weak, there are various treatments that you could try out.

Changing your thought patterns

You might find yourself thinking thoughts like this: "If I don't fall asleep now, I'll nod off tomorrow morning in class." These kinds of thoughts can actually keep you from falling asleep. In cognitive behavioral therapy you learn to recognize these types of thoughts and then replace them with more realistic ones, such as: “It's normal to be awake at night every once in a while. Maybe I’ll just fall asleep again. And if that doesn't happen, it’s not the end of the world.”

Even if you don't have this kind of therapy, you can still try to recognize and avoid thoughts that may keep you from getting to sleep.

Relaxation techniques

Autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation are two widely used relaxation techniques that are also used to treat sleep problems. These approaches are taught in courses. You can also teach yourself some of the techniques, for example by listening to an audio training course. These relaxation techniques need to be practiced regularly, but could help you to fall asleep a bit more quickly if you use them before going to bed.

In progressive muscle relaxation you lie down and concentrate on a certain group of muscles. You first relax the muscles, then tense them for a while, and then completely relax them again. After that you do the same exercise with other groups of muscles until you have relaxed your entire body.

Autogenic training is a kind of “self-hypnosis.” It involves sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, so you can completely relax your muscles. Then you repeat certain thoughts again and again in your mind, such as: “My arms feel heavy.” By doing this you can intensively experience different feelings such as heaviness, warmth, coolness or peace.

Sleeping pills

If you are hardly getting any sleep at all, your doctor can prescribe sleeping pills for you for a short period of time. But sleeping pills can have many side effects, and they can also make you feel tired during the day. What's more, a lot of medications that make it easier to sleep can also lead to dependency, even after a relatively short period of time. So you shouldn't use them too often.

And you should never take other people's sleeping pills (e.g. your parents'). Only a doctor can judge what medicine is suitable for you and what dose would be appropriate.

Labels: G47, G47.9, Insomnia, Mental and emotional wellbeing, Sleep disorder