I can’t sleep properly and haven’t been able to for a couple of years. I know something is wrong but what is it?

insomniaSleep problems can be caused by an irregular schedule, stress, having lots of things on your mind, changes in your sleep environment (your bedroom is too hot, too cold, or too noisy), and by consuming stimulants such as caffeine too close to bedtime. Sometimes the cause is unknown.

It may make you feel better to know that you are not alone. Research has shown that many teens don’t get enough sleep. This is partly due to the fact that during the teenage years the body’s internal clock has a tendency to shift out of sync with the external clock. Instead of releasing a hormone called “melatonin” early in the evening, the brain does so much later at night which makes it harder to both fall asleep early enough to get a full 9 hours of sleep, and to wake up on time the next morning.

The good news is there are things you can do to help you get the sleep your body needs.

  1. No caffeine after 3pm: Avoid beverages with caffeine (soda, tea, energy drinks, etc.) especially after 3pm.
  2. Don’t go to bed hungry: Have your evening meal at least 3 hrs. before going to sleep. It’s fine to have a small bedtime snack such as a glass of milk and a few crackers but don’t have a big meal.
  3. Have a nightly routine before bed: Plan on “winding down” before you go to sleep. Begin relaxing about 1 hour before you go to bed. Try doing a quiet activity such as listening to calming music, reading a book or meditating.
  4. Turn off the TV and ALL electronics including video games, tablets, laptops, etc. 1 hour before sleep, and keep them out of the bedroom.
  5. Turn off your cell phone and all notifications (new email and text alerts) or even better, leave your phone outside your room while you sleep. Studies have shown that a part of your brain continues to respond to certain lights and sounds even while you’re sleeping.
  6. Make your bedroom quiet, dark and cool. If you can’t control the noise, try wearing earplugs or using a fan to block out other sounds.
  7. Practice relaxation techniques. Try reading a book or meditating or write a list of what you need to do the next day so you don’t have stress about remembering.
  8. Don’t nap unless you are sick: you’ll have a better night’s sleep.
  9. Don’t smoke, or quit if you do. Nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana can all keep you awake. Talk to your health care provider if you need help with substance use.
  10. Most importantly, wake up at the same time every day (or within 1 hour of your usual wake up time) EVEN on the weekends. A regular wake up time promotes sleep hygiene and prevents sleep problems.
  11. Reduce exposure to bright light in the last three hours of the day before going to sleep.

If you still have sleep problems after trying the above suggestions, we suggest that you make an appointment with your health care provider.