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What to Do if You Can't Sleep

Sometimes going to sleep can seem boring. There's so much more you want to do. But if you've ever had too little sleep, you know that you don't feel very well when you're not rested.

Some kids have trouble falling to sleep, sometimes called insomnia. Let's talk about what to do if that happens to you.

Bedtime Fears

For kids, feeling scared or worried at bedtime is one of the main reasons for having trouble falling asleep. A kid might be afraid of the dark or might not like being alone. If a kid has a good imagination, he or she might hear noises at night and fear the worst — when it's just the family cat walking down the hall.

As you get older, these fears usually fade. Until they do, make sure your room makes you feel relaxed and peaceful. Look around your room from your bed. Are there things you can see from bed that make you feel good? If not, add some. Display some family photos or other pictures that make you happy. You might even create a mobile to hang over your bed.

Nightmares

Have you been having any nightmares lately? Sometimes it's hard to fall asleep when you're afraid of having a scary dream that feels way too real. If the fear of nightmares is keeping you awake, try talking to your mom or dad. Sometimes talking about the nightmares (and even drawing a picture of them) can help you stop having them.

By the way, kids have many more bad dreams when they watch scary or violent TV shows or movies or read scary books or stories before bedtime. Instead of doing those kinds of things, try thinking good thoughts before bed. Imagine a favorite place or activity or think of all the people who care about you. Reading a peaceful book before bed (your parent can read to you or you can read to yourself) or playing soothing music can help you have sweet dreams.

Worry and Stress

Insomnia also can happen when you're worried about things. It's easy to feel stressed when you have tests at school, after-school activities, team sports, and chores around the house.

If you're starting to feel overwhelmed — like it's all just too much — speak up. Your mom or dad can help you put some balance in your schedule. It may mean cutting out some activities so you have more free time.

Big Changes

A major change in your life or daily routine can easily cause sleep problems. Changes like divorce, death, illness, or moving to a new town can affect your ability to sleep through the night. During a difficult time, it helps if you feel safe. Try bringing a comforting object to bed with you, like a blanket a relative made for you or a favorite stuffed animal.

It might take a while to feel better, so talk with your mom or dad about what's bothering you. Even if the problem can't be solved, just talking it out can help you sleep easier.

Feeling Uncomfortable

If you feel too hot, too cold, hungry, or crowded, you won't get to sleep like you should. Prevent this by creating sleep-friendly bedtime space:

  • Make sure your bed is ready for sleep and relaxing — not so jammed with toys and stuffed animals that there's no room for you.
  • Turn on a fan if you're warm or pull on some socks if you're cold.
  • Have a regular bedtime routine that includes a light snack if you often feel hungry when it's time to turn in.

Getting Help for Sleep Woes

Most of the time, talking with your parent is all you need to do to handle a sleep problem. Your mom or dad can help you improve your bedtime routine and help you be patient while you develop new sleep habits.

But if a kid has really tough sleep problems, he or she might need extra help. That could mean talking to a counselor or psychologist about stress or sadness the kid is feeling.

If the kid's not really worried about anything, he or she could have a sleep problem. In this case, the answer might be to see a doctor who's a specialist in sleep. Some hospitals even have sleep labs, where patients come in and go to sleep so doctors can monitor their sleep and see what might be wrong.

Sleep Tips

Because so many people get insomnia, a lot of research has been done on how to beat it. Lucky for you, right? Not all of these tips work for everyone, but one or two might help you:

  • Write in a journal before you go to bed. This practice clears your mind so you won't have all those thoughts crowding your brain when you're trying to sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark, comfortable room. Light signals your body that it's time to be awake, so you want to avoid it at night. But if you are really afraid of the dark, it's OK to try a dim night-light. And being hot and sweaty or shivering from the cold can easily keep you up.
  • Don't sleep with a pet. This can be a tough habit to break, but your lovable dog or cat could be keeping you awake. As your pet cozies up to you or makes noise, it could wake you from a peaceful sleep. Try sleeping without your pet for a couple nights to see if you sleep better that way.
  • Don't drink any caffeinated beverages (like soda or iced tea) after about 3:00 in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant and might keep you awake.
  • Don't exercise at night. Keep your exercise to earlier in the day — never within a couple hours of when you go to sleep.
  • Once you're lying in bed, try a peaceful mind exercise. For instance, count backward from 100 with your eyes closed. By the time you get to 10 (yawn) we hope you'll feel very sleepy. And by 5, we hope you'll feel yourself drifting off ... 3, 2, 1, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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