I Can't Sleep: How To Address Teenage Insomnia
You're not alone if you're struggling to fall asleep at night. According to the Sleep Foundation, insomnia is the most common sleep condition to affect people of all ages, including adolescents. A lack of rest can have mental and physical health consequences if left unaddressed. Learning about insomnia can help teens and their families create a plan for treatment and feel well-rested.
Sleep Deprivation Symptoms
Insomnia may cause sleep deprivation due to an abnormal number of hours of sleep or an irregular sleep schedule.
- Excessive daytime tiredness
- Inability to wake up on one's own and feel rested
- Anxiety or depression
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
- Body aches and pains
- Eye soreness, watery eyes, or red eyes
- Frequent yawning
- Slowed reactions
- Sleeping during the day
Some individuals may also think or take in information more slowly after sleepless nights. When insomnia is ongoing, sleep deprivation can be detrimental. Long-term sleep deprivation can affect the body, such as inflammation, a weaker immune system, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a higher risk of mental health conditions, and various other medical or mental health concerns.
What To Do If You Can't Fall Asleep
There are a few possible solutions for teens experiencing insomnia, including the following.
Manage Stress Levels
Stress may be one of the most common reasons teens see a doctor for insomnia. When stressed, you might lie awake and experience racing thoughts, making it difficult to relax and fall asleep. This process may cause rumination, worries, and disturbances to your sleep-wake cycle. If you experience it regularly, it may be beneficial to talk to a doctor or mental health professional, especially if your inability to rest makes it challenging to wake up in the morning.
In the meantime, it may be valuable to try relaxation techniques, such as breathing deeply and slowly through your nose and gradually exhaling through your mouth. These deep breaths may help encourage a response in the body. In addition, mindfulness or meditation may help you stay grounded in the present moment and learn to let stressful thoughts pass.
A few strategies you might try include imagining a relaxing scene, controlling your breathing by paying attention to each breath, doing a body scan, or letting your thoughts pass without judgment.
Check On Your Sleep Hygiene Practices
Healthy sleep hygiene practices may benefit everyone, not just those with sleep concerns. Getting proper sleep can go beyond having a comfortable mattress on your bed. Ensuring you have a comfortable sleep environment promoting healthy sleep can be beneficial. In addition, you might try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and get into a bedtime routine.
A routine can signal your brain to rest during the hours before bedtime. To improve the bedroom environment, you can also try a white noise sound machine or calming sounds like rain to help you fall asleep. When you make these changes, you might overlook an immediate impact. However, sleep hygiene can be advantageous in the long term.
Other supportive sleep hygiene practices to improve sleep quality can include:
Avoiding substances like tobacco products, caffeine, and alcohol before bed
Refraining from taking long naps during the day
Trying not to lie in bed for too long
Not working in your bed during the day
When you spend time in your bed partaking in activities other than sleeping (homework, work, playing on your phone, etc.), your brain may stop associating your bed with sleep, making it more challenging to fall and stay asleep.
If you struggle to fall asleep after lying in your bed for 30 minutes, try getting out of your bed and partaking in a stretch or a yoga position. You could also try calm brain activities like solving crosswords, sudoku, or word searches. You can try several activities, but avoid using an electronic device because the blue light might alter your ability to sleep.
Wind Down Before Sleeping
You might find that finishing homework earlier in the evening may help prepare your mind to sleep. In addition, while exercise can be advantageous, it may help to avoid exercising a few hours before you go to bed. The "happy" brain chemicals released by the body during exercise may make it difficult to get to sleep.
Examples of relaxing activities and techniques you might try to wind down include breathing exercises, reading, guided imagery or meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and light stretching. You can also create a sleep diary and write in it before you sleep each night.
Psychological and medical associations have researched many of these strategies, including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. They have been deemed effective for those experiencing difficulty relaxing and falling asleep.
See A Sleep Doctor
If typical sleep hygiene practices aren't helping you fall asleep quickly, you may find it helpful to seek medical support. Sleep deprivation can impact your mental health, physical health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to engage in activities you enjoy.
You can start by talking to your doctor or a sleep specialist and expressing your difficulties with sleep. A doctor might help diagnose circadian rhythm sleep disorders or other problems that can cause insomnia. They may also recommend a prescription or over-the-counter sleep aid.
You can also try talking to a licensed counselor. They may be able to address any underlying concerns that make it difficult to sleep or use cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Also, if you want to discuss any unwanted coping mechanisms you've been using, a licensed therapist may be able to provide you with practical strategies to change them.
Find A Therapist
To find a counselor or therapist, you can search the web, use an online therapist directory, check your health insurance plan, or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform like BetterHelp for those age 18 or older or TeenCounseling for those ages 13-19. Both platforms offers a growing database of licensed and trained counselors, and online therapy can be more affordable than traditional in-person therapy or counseling in the absence of insurance.
Online therapy might also be beneficial if you're not sleeping well and don't want to leave the house. Studies have found that it can also be more effective than in-person therapy for treating certain conditions like depression, which may be associated with insomnia in some individuals. With an online platform, you can message your therapist as needed and receive resources throughout your week.
Frequently Asked Questions