Problems sleeping – Information for teenagers

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If you often feel so tired and groggy that you have trouble doing everyday activities, you're not getting enough sleep. It is estimated that about one third of people have trouble sleeping. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do about this problem yourself. 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. The times you are awake during the night are subtracted from the total. But you don't need to sleep soundly for eight hours every night.

It is 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 is 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 your sleep?

If you’ve been sleeping badly for a while now, you might have insomnia. This is the case if you haven't been getting enough sleep on more than three nights per week for longer than one month, and you feel really tired and worn out during the day.

Several things can cause sleep problems:

  • Too much alcohol: Alcohol is one of the most common causes of insomnia. Many people fall asleep faster when they've had something to drink, but their sleep is much less restful. Drinking less alcohol helps you sleep better and feel more rested in the morning.
  • Sleepwalking, nightmares, worries and anxiety.
  • Stress at school and pressure to perform well.
  • Snoring and breathing problems: If you snore, 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're sleeping badly. 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's causing your sleep problems, you can talk to a doctor. He or she can help you find out why you're sleeping badly.

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 you 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's worth trying to avoid these things in the evening. For instance, it might help to

  • only listen to relaxing music before going to bed, and avoid talking on the phone or playing games on your computer or phone,
  • choose drinks like water, diluted juices or herbal tea in the evening instead of stimulants like cola, energy drinks, coffee and regular or green tea,
  • not smoke before going to bed because the nicotine in cigarettes can have a stimulating effect, and
  • do physically demanding sports earlier in the evening instead of right before going to bed.

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

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

What if you argue with your parents about when you should go to bed?

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 have to be at school early in the morning, you'll still be tired during the day and you'll find it hard to concentrate.

On the other hand, not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. You'll notice yourself whether you've 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 you do if you don't start sleeping better?

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

Changing your thoughts

You might find yourself thinking thoughts like "If I don't fall asleep now, I'll nod off tomorrow morning in class." These kinds of thoughts can actually stop you from falling asleep. In cognitive behavioral therapy, you learn to recognize these 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 avoid thoughts that may stop you from getting to sleep.

Relaxation

Autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation are two widely used relaxation techniques that are also used to treat sleep problems. You can learn them by taking a course, using an app or doing an online tutorial. It can take a bit of practice to get them right, but they can then help you to fall asleep a bit faster if you do them before going to sleep.

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 whole body.

Autogenic training is a kind of “self-hypnosis.” First you sit or lie 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 enter into deep states of heaviness, warmth, coolness or relaxation, for example.

Sleeping pills

If you're hardly getting any sleep at all, your doctor can prescribe sleeping pills for a short 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 dependence, even after quite a short amount of time. So they can only ever be a temporary solution.

You should never take sleeping pills that have been prescribed for other people, such as your parents. Only a doctor can decide what medicine, and what dose, is suitable for you.

Bruni O, Novelli L. Sleep disorders in children. BMJ Clin Evid 2010: 2304.

Galland BC, Taylor BJ, Elder DE et al. Normal sleep patterns in infants and children: a systematic review of observational studies. Sleep Med Rev 2012; 16(3): 213-222.

Ohayon MM, Carskadon MA, Guilleminault C et al. Meta-analysis of quantitative sleep parameters from childhood to old age in healthy individuals: developing normative sleep values across the human lifespan. Sleep 2004; 27(7): 1255-1273.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on March 3, 2022
Next planned update: 2025

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Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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