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What to Do if You Can't Sleep

Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

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. A kid who has a good imagination 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, set up your room so that it makes you feel relaxed and safe. 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.


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

Watching scary or violent TV shows or movies or reading scary books before bedtime can give you bad dreams. Instead of doing those kinds of things, think 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

It can be harder to sleep when you're worried about things. It's easy to feel stressed when you have tests at school, after-school activities, 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 make it hard to sleep through the night. During a tough time, it helps if you feel safe. Try bringing a comforting object to bed with you, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

It might take a while to feel better, so talk with a parent or another adult you trust 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, calming routine before bedtime, like taking a warm bath or reading.

Getting Help When You Can’t Sleep

Most of the time, talking with your parents or caregiver is all you need to do to handle a sleep problem. They can help you make a relaxing bedtime routine.

But if you are having a tough time getting enough sleep, you might need extra help. That could mean talking to a counselor or psychologist about stress or sadness you might be feeling.

Some kids might have to see a doctor who specializes in sleep problems. Some hospitals have sleep labs, where patients come in overnight to be checked while sleeping to see what might be wrong.

Sleep Tips

About an hour before bedtime, put away homework and turn off the TV, computers, and other devices, including cellphones. Have a relaxing bedtime routine, like taking a warm bath or shower, reading, or listening to music.

These other tips can help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Write in a journal before you go to bed. This can help clear 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 tells your body that it's time to be awake, so you want it to be dark at night. But if you are really afraid of the dark, it's OK to turn on a dim night-light. People sleep best when the bedroom is a little cool, but not too cold.
  • 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.
  • Avoid caffeine found in drinks like coffee, soda, energy drinks, or iced tea. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake.
  • Get exercise every day. Regular exercise can help you sleep, but exercising too close to bedtime will  keep you awake. Find time to exercise earlier in the day. .
  • 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.
Medically reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2020