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Teenager worried about struggling to fall asleep

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Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 9:07 am

Dear Straight Talk: I’m 15. Most nights, I cannot fall asleep. I haven’t used Adderall as a study drug all school year, and actually, reading Straight Talk’s column on it [April 2, 2013] made me get off it. Yet, 1 a.m. rolls around and I lie there wide awake, my mind racing, and I can’t get comfortable. I hate it. Does anyone else have sleeping problems and what do they do about it? — Sleepless Teen

Brennan, 21, Colorado Springs, Co.: I struggled forever with a sleeping disorder. What helped most was not looking at ANY computers, cell phones, or TV for an hour before bed. All “screens” prevent your brain from shutting down. Save textbook reading for last so you don’t have to be online before bed. Natural sleep aids, like GABA, an amino acid, can also help.

Stay away from sleeping pills! They are horrible for you and don’t help the problem. If nothing works, see a doctor. You already know how lack of sleep affects your life, but new research shows it can cause brain damage. My doctor determined I had a “highly sensitive” personality, meaning my brain takes in stimuli all day and stays awake processing it. Solving sleep issues before college is crucial as all the new stresses will only make it worse.

Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: I had such bad sleep issues it affected my school performance. Even though I’m fit, my doctor recommended something physical every afternoon. So I started running twice a week, then every day, just 20 or 30 minutes. Now I can’t wait till 10:30 to go to sleep! I sleep a solid 61⁄2 hours without waking up. I turn off all screens an hour before bed and go to bed the same time every night.

Nicole, 23, Santa Rosa: Suggestions: Go to bed the same time every night, use your bed just for sleep (no homework, computer, etc.), avoid exercising two hours before sleep, avoid media one hour before sleep, do a before-sleep meditation to calm your mind and breathing. If these don’t work after a week, add in the natural sleep aid melatonin. I take it when there’s an exam the next day and my mind won’t shut down. It may give you intense dreams.

Taylor, 17, Santa Rosa: I have this problem, too, and had sleep anxiety as a child. Power down all technology 30 minutes before bedtime. The light from the screens stimulates the brain. Natural sleep aids like Calms or Rescue Remedy help me a lot. Lavender, vanilla oil and certain books make you sleepy, too. Your brain is powerful so stay calm knowing you will fall asleep eventually.

Warren, 24, Nashville, Mich.: Eating better helps me the most. Also, getting outside during the day, just walking, really relieves anxiety, letting me focus on my problems rather than spinning out. When things were really bad, I took a multi-vitamin and melatonin. Before going to sleep, all electronics go off. If you need background noise, try a small fan. If I still can’t sleep, I read a relaxing book.

Dear Sleepless: Sleep is one “dark side” I’m all for. Darkness, in fact, is the key to sleep. The panel nails this one. Top Solution: Power off all screens an hour before bedtime. ALL light — especially the “blue” light of electronic screens — inhibits the body’s melatonin. Light at night not only blocks sleep, the Harvard Health Letter reports its link to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity. Other sleep solutions: exercise, daily rhythm, getting outdoors, meditation/breath, good diet, natural sleep aids. I’ll add that cod liver oil helps ward off depression (more blues), another sleep disruptor. If these things don’t solve the problem, see your doctor. — Lauren

Ask a question or go deeper in today’s conversation at www.straighttalkadvice.org — or write P.O. Box 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473. Straight Talk Advice.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. If today’s column has been useful, please consider a donation!

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