When you were a child, your parents probably had a bedtime routine of some sort set up for you: a warm bath, a snack, a story. You had a set bedtime and always woke up around the same time every morning (whether your parents wanted you to sleep in or not). As you grew and started school, you probably had an even stricter routine of getting up and ready for the day. You may have stalled with needing a drink, needing another story, needing more hugs and kisses, but your parents still made you go to bed. Then came the teen years, where you were starting to assert your independence a little more. You decided you were in charge of your own bedtime routine. You took your own shower and instead of sleeping when you went to bed, you probably read a book or played with your toys or devices. Your parents didn’t fight you too much as long as you still got up in time for school and were in a relatively good mood. Weekends and vacations were your time to make your own rules. You could sleep when you wanted, wake up when you wanted, and watch all those late night shows you had heard about.
But you were also pretty unpleasant to be around, let’s be honest.
Your hormones at that time were going haywire, which you didn’t understand, of course. You were moody, angry, sad. Sometimes you wanted to stay in bed all day and not have to deal with other people. Sometimes you just couldn’t get any sleep at all, and then got mad when people mentioned how cranky you were. Does any of this sound familiar? That is because you are not alone and this is all completely normal.
As our hormones change, even as older adults, our sleep schedule is one of the first things to get disrupted, even though it is one of the most important functions for our body to grow and heal. Sleep is super important for our bodies and our brains. During sleep, our bodies reset. Lack of sleep can cause so many problems, such as heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, physical pain, and even causes us to do stupid things, like drinking, smoking, or making other bad choices. Both too little and too much sleep can cause headaches or make migraines worse. Have you ever taken a long nap and woke up feeling worse than before?
And while lack of sleep can cause an array of problems, being too tired usually has an underlying cause that needs to be discovered. This could include anemia, which is an iron deficiency, Lyme disease, low thyroid, mental health issues, other medical issues, or even side effects to another medication. A doctor can order a simple blood test to check for many of these things, just make sure you talk to your doctor at your yearly checkups. A simple change in your diet or a supplement could be all that you need, or it could be something more. It is always better to check with a doctor before taking action on your own.
Talking to your doctor about not getting enough sleep is just as important. Without the appropriate amount of sleep, which is 8-10 solid hours a night, you will start to feel fuzzy…information that you knew for a test just isn’t coming back to you at the right moment; you forget the simplest things, like your parents asking you to take out the trash (and you get mad when you get in trouble for forgetting); you are moody and you don’t understand why. Your doctor will probably stress to you the importance of finding your own bedtime routine and might even offer some medication as a last resort. Here are a few tips for a bedtime routine:
- Set a bedtime, at least 8-10 hours before you need to wake up.
- Take a warm bath/shower.
- Drink only water or decaffeinated herbal tea an hour before bed.
- Put away your electronic devices. Studies show that the light from cell phones, tablets, etc. can mess with your brainwaves, making it harder to sleep.
- Turn off your notifications on your phone. Nothing is worse than finally falling asleep only to be interrupted because someone tweeted something that doesn’t pertain to you at 2am. And let’s be honest, there is no emergency phone call you are waiting for. So ignore your phone!
- Make your bedroom cozy. Do you prefer complete darkness? A night light? Maybe you prefer sound, like your fan running or a noise machine, or even music playing. All of these are great ways to fall asleep. If you aren’t sure why you aren’t falling asleep regularly, maybe try something new. White noise (background noise like waterfalls or vaccuums) have been proven effective at helping even newborns fall asleep. Personally, I like the sound of the air conditioner in our window, even in the winter! I don’t fall asleep as quickly or sleep as well without it. Try new things until you find what is right for you.
- Read a book. Some people find reading really puts them right to sleep! Your eyes tend to get fatigued while reading. If you are like me though, this usually doesn’t work. I love reading and get so involved that I have to keep reading no matter how tired my eyes get! But I have heard this works for other people.
- Try to avoid heavy meals and snacks before bed, but at least have some kind of snack. Melatonin is something our bodies make that helps us go to sleep and there are foods that contain ingredients that will help our bodies make melatonin, such as: dairy products (ex:low fat yogurt), poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, apples, bananas, peaches, avocados, grains, spinach, broccoli, grapes, cucumber, etc. There are many choices if you look up “foods that contain melatonin.” You could probably make a super sleepy smoothie out of these ingredients!
- Speaking of melatonin, you can actually buy melatonin sleep aids over the counter, but please get a parent or doctors permission if you are under 18. It is also best to rule out any underlying issue before ever using any product for sleeping. One of the things I do recommend is getting a blood test to measure the vitamins and minerals in your blood. You could be tired because you lack certain vitamins, like B6, or minerals like Magnesium. Don’t assume you know what you are missing and supplement yourself. You could do more harm to your body.
Sleep is one of the most important functions of our body and sometimes our bodies don’t do what we need or want it to do, but we shouldn’t just sit back and take it. Figure out what you are missing or what you need and get help when necessary. Bad sleep patterns as an adolescent will cause bad sleep habits as an adult. But remember, too much sleep is never the answer. There are plenty of online resources for help with deeper sleep issues.
I hope this helps you and please remember to like this article and comment. I’d love to hear what sleep problems you have or had as an adolescent and how you plan to or did overcome them. Check back weekly for more tips and make sure you follow and subscribe to the email list for reminders.