What Should I Do If I Can't Sleep?

I go to bed on time but sometimes I lie there for a while and can't fall asleep. What should I do?
– Thomas*

Changes in circadian rhythm mean it can be hard for teens to fall asleep sometimes.

If you find yourself lying awake in bed thinking about everything from your homework to whether it's your turn to walk the dog in the morning, you may need a sleep reboot. Try this:

  • Start by trying to take your mind off any racing thoughts. Picture a relaxing scene that involves sleep and build that scene in your mind. So, let's say your scene has you lying in a beach hammock under the stars. Imagine what the waves sound like. Are there other sounds, like palm trees rustling? What sensations do you feel (like the hammock swaying, or maybe a warm breeze blowing)? Is anyone else there with you? Focus completely on this scene for a while.
  • If that doesn't work and you're still wide awake, try getting up for a short time. Get out of bed and do something relaxing that might make you feel drowsy — like reading or playing a repetitive game like Sudoku. Keep the lights low and go back to bed after 30 minutes or so (or sooner if you start feeling sleepy).
  • Avoid technology, like phones, computers, or TV. Brightly lit screens can mislead your brain into thinking it's time to wake up. And anything that stimulates your brain — from a text conversation to a video game — also can kick your body into wake-up mode.

Getting up for a short while can help if you have trouble falling asleep sometimes or if you occasionally wake up and can't go back to sleep. But you don't want to have to do it every night. If you have trouble falling asleep, it's best to train your body to wind down and relax with a pre-sleep routine each night. Doctors call this "good sleep hygiene."

Good sleep hygiene includes activities that signal the body it's time to sleep, like going to bed at the same time each night, shutting down technology, and keeping your room dark. It also includes avoiding caffeine or other stimulants for several hours before bedtime.

It can help to treat sleep like any other goal: build a plan that helps you focus on it and get the results you want!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2011

Have a question? Ask the experts

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.