Why Can’t I Sleep…

One of the most common and frustrating complaints I get from children, teens and their parents is their lack of sleep, and even more frequently I hear of their difficulties in being able to fall asleep. Not getting enough rest has direct consequences on the mind and impacts one’s ability to think clearly and keep emotions balanced. In fact, not getting enough rest can affect your child’s school performance, and friendships, and even lead to mood instability such as anger and depression.

Most people do not give sleep  the priority it should have. Sleep improves learning, memory, and insight.  It allows the body to repair and restore itself. Frequently, teens will tell me that they will “catch up with sleep over the weekend.” Although this concept seems quite logical, Researchers at Penn State University College of Medicine studied the effects of weekend recovery sleep after a week of mild sleep deprivation. The study determined that make-up sleep on the weekends erased only some of the deficits associated with not sleeping enough the previous week. The study did not account for all the secondary affects I witness first hand — such as parents having to deal with an irritable and moody teenager, arguments amongst friends and significant others due to mood instability, poor food choices due to increased cravings from a lack of sleep, and even self-medicating with caffeine or other substances.  

To help make sleep a priority for yourself and your children, here are some tips to try to help you get the rest you need.

1. Have a consistent sleep schedule

Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle. There are also apps such as Go to Bed and Nag that will send reminder messages throughout the evening to asset in making it to bed on-time. I highly recommend these apps for teens and suggest parents avoid being the reminder about bed time.

2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink

Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Frequently, discomfort in being too full or too hungry can keep one awake. Also notice if you consume nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.  The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can have direct consequences on a person’s quality of sleep.  Despite alcohol usually making most people sleepy, it frequently disrupts sleep later in the night, preventing deep sleep.

3. A Restful environment

Having an ideal space for sleeping can have a large effect on one’s ability to sleep.  For many this entails a cool, dark and quiet environment. Although many children cannot fall asleep without a night light, exposure to light can make it more challenging to fall asleep. Additionally, it is highly recommended to avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens right before bedtime.  This includes cell phones, iPads and tablets. Tools such as black out curtains, fans, ear plugs and noise machines can also help create an environment ideal for sleeping

4. Relax your mind

Our minds go all day long, and it is frequently difficult for us to slow them down at bed time. Doing calming activities prior to bedtime  — such as meditation, journaling, reading, taking a bath and even listening to relaxation apps — can help promote a faster and deeper sleep.

5. Limit naps and sleeping into the late morning

Daytime naps or sleeping too late can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you need to nap, limit yourself to 30 minutes and avoid doing so later in the day.

6. Include physical activity in your daily routine

Research consistently shows regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However, it is important to avoid being active too close to bedtime because it energizes the body and can actually makes it harder to fall asleep.

7. Manage stress and anxiety

Trying to fall asleep when you have something on your mind can feel like an impossible task. If you cannot resolve the issue before bedtime, write it down and set it aside for the following day. Sometimes saying a positive phrase over and over again in your head or counting can be helpful to redirecting the mind and allowing it to drift into a restful state

8. What to do if you still cannot sleep?

If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes and have tried your strategies, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing and soothing such as read or listen to soothing music. Then, go back to bed when you are tired.