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Teenager Can't Get Enough Sleep

Peggy Elam

Question :

I'm 17 and spent a whole school year on very little sleep. Now that it's summer, I've been trying to get enough sleep each night, but I am constantly tired and have little energy. Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep, and periodically wake up. I just want a good night's sleep and some energy. What should I do?


Answer :

You may have physically and emotionally depleted yourself during what seems to have been a stressful year, and thus will need to replenish yourself with plenty of rest, good nutrition (that means no weight-loss dieting or other kinds of restrictive eating), and regular moderate exercise.

To help your body (and psyche) recover, you may also need to decrease or eliminate artificial stimulants such as caffeine (found in coffee, chocolate, regular tea, and many soft drinks). People with lagging energy often use such stimulants to try to perk themselves up, but they run the risk of forcing their bodies to do more when what they really need is to rest and heal from any stressors. You may also need to eat more protein, which is a good source of energy. Vegetarians can eat enough protein if they are careful about food choices and make a point to eat some protein-rich foods.

You might also consider seeing a therapist to explore whether there might be any psychological reasons for your sleep difficulties. Is anything bothering you? Are you currently under any stress? A therapist could also help you look at your day or week from a behavioral perspective, to see if there's anything you might be doing that could interrupt your sleep. If you continue feeling tired and have difficulty sleeping, I'd also consider seeing a physician for a complete physical examination to make sure there are no medical reasons for your fatigue.

I also recommend planning ahead for next year to make sure you get enough sleep each night. Your experiences over the past year may have taught you a valuable lesson -- regularly going without adequate sleep and other means of restoring yourself can result in physical and emotional costs from which you end up struggling to recover. Why set yourself up for a similar occurrence next year? If you can develop good habits regarding sleep, nutrition and exercise now, they'll help you better weather other stressful times.



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Dr. Nancy Snyderman

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