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Why Can’t I Sleep?

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From a teen in the U.S.: For a while I was using an acne medication that resulted in anxiety for me. I haven’ t used the medication in quite some time now, but the anxiety stuck around, although much less severe.

Basically what happens is that when I go to bed at night, I’m hit with an ever growing group of characters (a lot from horror movies I have never watched but will occasionally see pictures or mentions of while scrolling through social media). In my mind, I end up visualizing all of them in my room. I get a tightness in my chest and an inability to close my eyes because having my eyes open confirms for me that they aren’t there, even as I picture them in front of me.

I’m fine throughout most of the day. This only ever happens when I go to bed, although sometimes I’ll end up finding a trigger for it earlier in the day, and then it just makes going to bed worse.

I’ve tried a few different things to help me get to sleep, from reading (which usually ends up lasting for over an hour and I end up staying awake anyways) to imagining hero characters surrounding me and acting as a guard to protect me from the villain, to even just imagining that a purple barrier surrounds me and is impenetrable. Except that I always doubt it and it never actually feels secure.

So I guess my question is what calming techniques are there to help me ignore these characters or what can I do to simply stop myself from thinking about them? Cause I’m a 16 year old girl and still ask my mom to sit with me while I try to sleep on bad nights and I’m pretty much afraid of the dark. None of it works to help me sleep well and I kinda need that to go about the rest of life happily.

Why Can’t I Sleep?

Answered by on -


You’re correct. Your anxiety is still with you. At this point, you are scared that you are going to be scared, which makes you even more scared. You have a vivid imagination so you’ve come up with “characters” that make your fear make a kind of sense. Now they have taken on a life of their own.

You’ve already done the kinds of things I would initially suggest for someone like yourself — superheroes, a barrier, having someone sit with you, etc. None of them are working. It’s okay to admit that to yourself. Anxiety is often too difficult for a person to manage without external help.

So the next step is to see a counselor who specializes in anxiety disorders. Anxiety is very treatable. A combination of some medication (at least for a while) and talk therapy to help you better cope with the anxiety is probably what you need. If you were seeing me, I’d probably suggest some cognitive behavioral strategies and maybe some self-hypnosis as things to try.

I’m very glad you wrote to us here at Psych Central. Reaching for some help this way is an important first step. Now, please: Take the next step and ask your mom to help you find a specialist to help you address the anxiety so you can enjoy the rest of your teen years (and the rest of your life) without feeling constantly threatened.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Why Can’t I Sleep?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2020). Why Can’t I Sleep?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Aug 2020 (Originally: 5 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Aug 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.