Help with Sleep Problems

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am concerned because for the past few months, I feel as if I just don’t sleep what I should. I know that this is a general problem within society, but I feel something is genuinely wrong. Each night I go to bed, either early or late because I am with friends or working on school work or working and on those nights I roughly get about 3 to 4 hours of sleep, which of course is on my own doing, and then during the next day I may take a 2 to 3 hour nap and then the next night I will have trouble sleeping, which I believe is put on by the naps during the day, but I don’t always take naps. And even when I don’t hang out with friends or school and what not, and I go to bed at a decent time, I find myself consistently waking up in the middle of the night and staying up researching colleges because I have not been happy with my overall choice in schooling.

I have tried taking a small dose of melatonin vitamins, which I have still woken up in the middle of the night and have tried larger doses and sleep aides (not together, but at separate times) and I still wake up in the middle of the night doing the same things. I guess I am just genuinely concerned with my well being because each day I wake up after a few hours, exhausted whether it be my own doing or my mind constantly racing about the future and what it holds. Most of my nights are spent this way, but I do get lucky and have a few 6 to 8 hour nights of sleep. Even when I try to relax, I still mostly feel restless and like I have so much to do and I blame myself for everything if something isn’t done or it isn’t done right. Should I be concerned or is this just a long ordeal of stress?

A: Yes, you should be concerned. Sleep deprivation can lead to illness and bad decisions. At 19, you need 6 to 8 hours of restorative sleep every night to be at your best. But from what you told me, it makes sense that sleep aids aren’t helping. Your sleeplessness seems to be a symptom of a larger problem. You are focusing on the sleep. I’m thinking you should be focusing on what it is that is making you so anxious about your future, your schooling, and your choices. You aren’t able to shut down your worries at night so of course you can’t sleep.

I suggest you get at the root cause of your sleep problems directly. Most colleges have a career center. Please make an appointment to talk to a counselor there about your school and career choices. If there isn’t a career center, consider whether there is another resource on campus such as a counseling center or pastoral counselor. Many teachers are also happy to talk to an interested student. You might also find this article helpful.

Meanwhile, there are some things you can do about sleep. Get regular in your sleep habits. Go to bed at the same time every night. Do not let yourself take naps. Eliminate caffeine. Read and study somewhere other than in your bed. You want bed to be associated with sleep. If you can’t sleep, don’t toss and turn. It only makes a person more anxious. Instead, get up and write down your thoughts and feelings. Then go back to bed.

I think a combination of dealing with your worries directly and taking charge of your sleep hours will help.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 May 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Help with Sleep Problems. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/05/24/help-with-sleep-problems/