Problems sleeping – information for teenagers
Being a teenager, you probably have got a lot going on: After school you might do sports or meet with your friends. Maybe you also have a job to earn some extra money, or you have to watch your brother or sister. And it can sometimes be difficult to get some peace and quiet at home if you share a room with a brother or sister or your parents argue a lot, for instance. It may be difficult for you to fall asleep in the evening or you might suddenly awake in the middle of the night because you have had a bad dream.
Sleeping poorly every once in a while is quite normal. Even if you frequently cannot fall asleep or lie awake at night, you are not alone: it is estimated that at least 1 out of every 5 children, teenagers and adults has a sleeping disorder – 20% of the population. If you have been sleeping poorly more than three nights per week for more than a month, you could also be part of the group of people who have trouble sleeping. But the chances are good that you can do something about it. Read on to find out what might be causing your sleeping problems and what could help you to sleep better.
How long do other teenagers sleep?
For young children between the ages of five and eight years a night’s sleep of eight or nine hours is quite normal. By the time they are 20 years old, most people get by with a little less than eight hours of sleep every night. At the age of around 40 years about seven hours’ sleep is usual. Keep in mind that these are just averages that cannot tell you exactly how much sleep you yourself will need. This varies somewhat from person to person.
By sleep we do not mean only the time you spend in deep sleep, but the entire time you are sleeping. This begins the moment you turn off the light and close your eyes. It ends when you are really awake the next morning and get up. You do not need to sleep soundly for eight hours every night. It is normal if you spend about half of the time sleeping more lightly. But if during the day you are often tired and feel so exhausted that your routine activities start to become a burden, you are not getting enough sleep.
It is also not normal if you often have a very difficult time getting up in the morning. This does not mean that you are sometimes still a little tired in the morning and would like to get in a few more winks. Some teenagers often feel instead absolutely beat, and can hardly get out of bed at all. Teenagers often get into the habit of going to bed late even during the week and then sleeping for a very long time on the weekend. This kind of irregular sleeping pattern can lead to sleeping problems.
While you are sleeping you go through different sleep phases, which repeat every 90 to 110 minutes. In the first phase you are still alternating between being asleep and being awake, and you can very easily be awakened. In the second phase your brain then comes to rest. In the third and fourth phase you are in deep sleep. During the fourth phase, you dream. When this phase ends, you sleep more lightly again and enter into these phases all over again. Some people wake up between the different phases, while others sleep through them. Children usually sleep longer than teenagers. Teenagers on the other hand have longer deep sleep phases than children do.
What can disturb my sleep?
If you have been sleeping poorly for a while now, you might have a sleeping disorder. The medical term for this disorder is insomnia. Insomnia may have different causes:
- Sleepwalking, nightmares, worries and fears could be a reason for your trouble sleeping.
- If you snore, or if one of your brothers or sisters you share a room with does, you might wake up repeatedly at night. Difficulty breathing can also cause this.
- You might also grind your teeth at night, and that could be the reason you are sleeping poorly. This is called bruxism.
Long-lasting sleeping disorders can also be a sign of depression. If you and your parents are not sure what is causing your sleeping problems, you can talk to a doctor. You can then find out together why you are sleeping poorly.
It is most likely that your sleeping problems have no medical cause. In that case, your sleeping habits or worries and fears are probably making sleeping difficult. You can find out what you can do about your sleeping problems then in the following paragraphs.
What can I do to sleep better again?
Lots of things you might do in the evening can get you excited and prevent you from being able to fall asleep quickly. If you want to do something about your trouble sleeping, it is worth trying to avoid these kinds of things in the evening. It might help, for example, to
- stop using the telephone, listening to loud music, and playing on the computer for a while before going to bed,
- not drink any stimulating beverages, such as cola, coffee or black tea in the evening, because these drinks can keep you up,
- not smoke before going to bed, because the nicotine in cigarettes can have a stimulating effect,
- not do any demanding sports shortly before going to bed.
It might 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. It is these worries themselves that can also keep you from sleeping. You might sleep better if you
- make sure that your room is quiet and dark and is at a comfortable temperature,
- regularly go to bed at the same time,
- get up if you cannot 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,
- do not continue to lie in bed for a long time when you wake up in the morning.
Adults slept more peacefully and woke up less often, when they followed this advice. Unfortunately, it is impossible to say which of these tips work especially well. You will have to find out for yourself what helps you the best. We do not know whether it may also help to take a nap during the day.
You might have already had some first experiences drinking alcohol. Yet did you know that alcohol can disturb a good night’s sleep? Many people do fall asleep faster when they have had something to drink. But not many people know that alcohol makes them sleep more poorly and prevents them from sleeping peacefully through the night. So not drinking too much alcohol is another thing you can do to sleep better and to wake up more rested.
What if my parents argue with me about when my bedtime should be?
Parents and children often do not agree about when it is time to go to bed. On the one hand, it is important that you have a regular sleeping rhythm and that you do 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 and not able to concentrate very well.
On the other hand, every person needs a different amount of sleep. When you get older, you will have to learn how to develop a feeling for your own needs. This will also include finding out how much sleep you need to feel refreshed and well-rested the next 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. It might help to show them this information during your discussion.
Which treatments might help if my trouble sleeping does not get better?
If your sleeping problems are troubling you and you are, for example, often tired and feel weak, there are different treatments that could help you. The following treatments have for the most part only been studied scientifically for use by adults. We cannot guarantee that they will help.
Changing your thought patterns
“If I don’t fall asleep now, I’ll nod off in class tomorrow.” You might also think thoughts like this sometimes. Yet it is precisely these kinds of thoughts that can keep you from falling asleep. In cognitive therapy you learn to recognize these types of thoughts and then replace them with more realistic ones, for instance: “It is normal to be awake at night every once in a while. Maybe I will just fall asleep again. And if that does not happen, it’s also ok.”
In what is called cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy is combined with other methods, for example with one of the relaxation techniques described below, or with a change in sleeping habits. Even if you do not do this type of therapy, there are some techniques and rules that can help you to deal with worries and fears. You can find more about these therapies and about how you yourself can change thought patterns here.
Two widely used relaxation techniques that have also been studied for use in dealing with sleeping disorders, are autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation. You can learn either of them by taking a course. You can also teach yourself some of the techniques, for example by listening to a program on a CD.
In progressive muscle relaxation you lie down and concentrate on a certain group of muscles. You first relax the muscles, and then tense them for a while, and then completely relax them again. After that you do the same exercise with a different group of muscles, until you have finally relaxed your entire body.
Autogenic training is a kind of “self-hypnosis”. To do autogenic training you sit or lie down in a comfortable position, so that you can completely relax your muscles. Then you repeat certain thoughts again and again in your mind, for example “My arms are heavy”. By doing this you can intensively enter different states such as heaviness, warmth, coolness or peace. These relaxation techniques need some practice, but they could help you to fall asleep a bit more quickly if you use them before going to bed.
If you are getting practically no sleep at all, your doctor can prescribe sleeping pills for you for a short period of time. All sleeping pills may have many different adverse effects, and can also make you feel tired during the day. A lot of medications that make it easier to sleep can also become addictive even after a relatively short period of time. Because of this they are not a permanent solution.
Trying your parents or grandparents’ sleeping pills is definitely not a good idea. A lot of medications may be taken only by adults and can be hazardous for children and teenagers. Children and teenagers also often need a different dose than adults do. You should also not take any medication your friends or siblings are taking.
Coping with concerns and sleeping problems
Until you are an adult, you will need quite a bit of sleep. When you get older, you will need slightly less sleep in order to feel rested during the day. Even though it has not been studied especially well overall how you can best make sure you get as much sleep as you need: you can try out a lot of different things and then find out what helps.
If you have a lot of worries and fears, it is not just your sleep that is being affected. When you sleep poorly, you feel exhausted the next morning and your problems will seem even bigger. On the other hand, depression may also be the cause of your sleeping problems. Or maybe you have a friend in this situation. If you would like to find out more about young people and depression and how to help friends who are depressed, then click here.
Author: German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG)
- February 02nd 2012 09:31
- March 30th 2010 11:06
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