Could it be insomnia?

Could it be insomnia?

12 December 2013

Q: My teen used to have no trouble sleeping but lately he hasn’t been sleeping well and sometimes he’s awake for quite a while. Could it be insomnia?

A: That’s a question that many parents ask from time to time. Insomnia is a disorder in which a person has a hard time falling asleep or has difficulty staying asleep. Sometimes there are underlying health problems that cause insomnia such as stress or anxiety, or chronic pain. In teenagers, insomnia is sometimes associated with mood disorders such as depression.

If not sleeping lasts for more than a few weeks you might want to talk to your son’s doctor. But before you make an appointment, take a closer look at your son’s evening routine and see if the cause might be found there. While most adults do well on seven to eight hours sleep a night, teenagers are still growing and they need nine to 10 hours sleep a night. Depending on when your son has to wake up for school, this could mean going to bed as early as 9:00 p.m. It might seem unrealistic, especially for a busy teen with a lot of commitments, but that’s the goal you should aim for.

One thing you can do to help your son is talk to him about developing good habits to encourage regular sleep—something we refer to as sleep hygiene. If the hours before your son goes to bed are filled with lots of stimulating activity, it’s going to be even harder for him to get to sleep. Does he play video games or watch a lot of TV at night? Does he spend a lot of time on social media with his friends? Any of these activities can really stimulate the brain and make it harder to wind down and fall asleep at the right hour. Try to limit his screen time before bed, and if the computer is in his room, suggest that he turn it off every night before bed.

Getting enough exercise is also very important for sleep, but it’s better to do harder, more strenuous activities earlier in the day. And don’t forget that caffeine can also be a factor in not sleeping well so if your son has a tendency to drink coffee or energy drinks, he should avoid them at night for better sleep hygiene.

Dr. Nadine Korah

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