We asked a colleague for helpful hints for parents on how to combat insomnia in teens. This post is a nice follow-up to our post on sleep in adolescents that focused more on why teens may be more fatigued than we’d expect. If you have other ideas for how to help your teen sleep, please let us know!
Dr. Henry Berman
PRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR COMBATING INSOMNIA
- Set regular hours for getting up in the morning, and stick to it; on weekends, you may add 2 hours to this, but no more. This may mean waking yourself from a sound sleep before getting enough sleep, but it will lead to better sleep the next night.
- Stay out of bed if you are not asleep. Notice what time it is when you get in the bed. If you haven’t fallen asleep after half an hour, get up and read or do something else light, like listening to music (no TV—the light from the screen makes it harder to fall asleep). Keep these activities short, for example, read articles instead of novels. Wait until you are very sleepy before you return to bed, again noting the time, and repeat these directions.
- You may find that you sleep even less initially, but it is better to risk losing a few hours of sleep than to lie in bed “tossing and turning”. Don’t read or watch television in bed and don’t eat in bed. Aim to have your mind and body associate your bed with sleep and only with sleep. Let yourself fall asleep wherever you are. Take your alarm clock with you so you don’t worry about oversleeping.
- Remove all electronic media from your room, and stop using them one hour before you plan to sleep.
- Avoid taking naps during the day or any time outside the hours you set for sleep. If you are very tired, take a brief nap (15-30 minutes), using an alarm clock to make sure you keep it short.
- Drink a glass of milk at bedtime. Milk contains L-tryptophan, a natural food substance which helps induce sleep.
- Eat a small, mild, high-carbohydrate bedtime snack to settle your stomach.
- Get some exercise every day, but avoid strenuous exercise at bedtime.
- Do whatever you can to make your bedroom conducive to sleep. Keep the temperature cool. Ask those near you to respect your need for quiet. Some people are soothed by a low, steady noise like a fan or a white noise device. Try to use your bedroom for sleeping only.
- If worries or thoughts of tomorrow’s activities intrude into your consciousness, get out of bed and make a list of them to be dealt with during your waking hours. Or designate a “worry chair”: Get up, sit in the chair, and make yourself worry for 10 or 20 minutes, then go back to bed.
- “Count sheep.” It’s very difficult to let your mind go blank, so fill your thoughts with repetitive, monotonous images.
- Avoid caffeine containing foods and drinks such as coffee, tea, chocolate, etc. after 6 PM; if that does not work, avoid them after 1 PM.
- Don’t “try” to go to sleep. Sleep is a natural process which cannot be forced. Let yourself go to sleep. Avoid keeping track of how much time you sleep or stay awake.
- Establish bedtime rituals to signal your mind and body to begin to relax. Try taking a warm bath or reading. Use muscle relaxation techniques—progressively clenching and relaxing each muscle group.
- You must be willing to lose some sleep at first by following these instructions, but if you stick to them, your sleep cycle will gradually improve.