Spring 2024

Peace of Mind: Insomnia

Sleeping is a critical element involved a healthy life. A good night’s sleep helps people maintain their balance, bringing a degree of both mental and physical harmony to their daily lives. This is why disruption to sleep is so troubling for most people. Unfortunately, sleep disruption is bound to affect everyone at some point in their lives. When it affects teens, guidance counsellors and parents can work with the young person to try to avoid slipping into one of the most disruptive sleep disorders: insomnia.

An important note

Before diving into the problem of insomnia, one important factor affecting a teen’s sleep health needs to be examined. This involves the hormonal waves coursing through an adolescent’s body during puberty. Among these hormones is melatonin: the chemical that helps with a person’s circadian rhythm and lets them know when it’s time to sleep. It is significant to note that teens produce melatonin later in the day than children and adults. The disparity is believed to be as much as two hours which means an adolescent does not feel like going to sleep until quite a bit later than most adults, and certainly well after most children want to go to sleep. While frustrated parents may be insisting on an early bedtime for their high school aged children, a teen’s circadian rhythm, and the delayed release of melatonin, might be keeping them awake. This would be important information to share with students before getting too caught up in discussions of insomnia.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that presents itself when a person has trouble falling and/or staying asleep. The average teen requires eight to ten hours of sleep per night. That’s a lot of sleep, so when sleep disruption starts to creep into a young person’s life, the results can be troubling indeed. Experts believe that over 60 percent of people experience bouts of insomnia at some point in their lives.

Types of insomnia

There are several types of insomnia. They are:

  • Acute insomnia – sleeplessness that comes on suddenly, affecting sleep at least three nights a week, and lasts for under three months.
  • Chronic insomnia – sleeping difficulty occurring several times a week over a period longer than three months. Chronic insomnia is accompanied by daytime symptoms that include sleepiness and attention problems.
  • Onset insomnia – difficulty falling asleep. The longer that onset insomnia continues, the more stress and anxiety a person tends to feel.
  • Maintenance insomnia – the inability to stay asleep throughout the night. Like onset insomnia, continually waking up can be extremely stressful.
  • Mixed insomnia – a combination of sleep onset and maintenance insomnia.

Causes of insomnia

There are many causes of insomnia. Some of the most common include:

  • Illness or medical issues. Often pain or discomfort can keep a person awake or wake them up in the night.
  • A poor sleep environment. Parents should make sure their teen is sleeping in a dark, comfortable room. They should also make sure their child’s smartphone is off and away.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Mental health issues like depression or PTSD.
  • Medicines like steroids.
  • Poor sleep habits.

Health risks

Prolonged insomnia can lead to significant health problems. Some issues associated with teen insomnia may include accidents or injuries due to the grogginess caused by not getting enough sleep. Other serious concerns are a propensity toward obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Insomnia can also lead to a troubled mind leading to depression and, in some instances, suicidal ideation and self-harm.

How can you help?

As a guidance counsellor there are some things you can offer to help students in their charge. Educating students on the hormonal issues discussed above and the nature of insomnia so that they know what they’re dealing with is a great place to start.

Secondly, encourage students to practice good sleep hygiene. Here are some sleep tips for teens:

  • Go to sleep in a dark, cool, and quiet bedroom.
  • Keep the bedroom free of all electronics (TV, gaming devices and smartphones)
  • Eliminate screen time (TV, gaming, smartphone) at least one hour before bedtime
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants later in the day
  • Avoid eating in the evening
  • Exercise
  • Avoid long naps
  • Avoid sleeping in on weekends

As usual, guidance counsellors will work with families to find a solution to the insomnia problem. Part of that may involve the young person’s family physician; in some instances, prescription medication may be necessary to help improve their sleep. A medical professional is a key part of the team that can help prevent insomnia from spiralling from acute to chronic.

Final thoughts

Helping students recognize the things they can do to get a good night’s sleep is a gift guidance counsellors can deliver. Fostering a proper sleep routine can be transformative life skill for the young person as they see the benefits of rest and the rejuvenation after slumber.

By: Sean Dolan