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by Pramod Narula, M.D.


My adolescent daughter has been having problems falling asleep.

How can I help her doze off?

While insomnia is a prevalent sleep disorder among adults, it’s also quite common for children to experience difficulty falling asleep.  Children generally need between nine and 11 hours of shut-eye a night.  Continual sleeplessness can result in your daughter feeling exhausted and make it difficult for her to concentrate on her schoolwork during the day.  Constant fatigue might also compromise her immune system and make her susceptible to illness. 

   The good news it that once you identify the source of your child’s insomnia, you’re well on your way to treating it.  One possible cause is stress.  Talk to your daughter and find out how she’s doing academically and socially — perhaps she’s struggling with a particular class or had a recent fight with a friend.  If so, she might be worrying about this problem at night, which could prevent her from dozing off.  High caffeine intake or an upset stomach could also be causing the problem, so take a look at you're her diet as well.  Asthma, poor sleep habits (such as going to bed at different times each night), certain types of medication, or even growing pains or muscle cramps can keep a child up.

   After you determine what’s causing the problem, get your daughter back on a healthy sleep cycle by instilling good bedtime habits. Only allow her to use the bed to sleep; have her avoid doing her homework or watching television in bed.  Enforce a schedule where she wakes up and goes to bed at the same time.  Also, make sure she avoids stimulating activities, such as playing video games,  30 to 60 minutes prior to her consistent bedtime.  Regular exercise during the day and avoiding caffeine (which is found in carbonated cola drinks) can help, as well as encouraging her to learn relaxation techniques, like meditation, that she can do before sleeping.  If she has problems nodding off, make sure she gets out of bed and does something relaxing, such as reading, rather than tossing and turning under the covers. 

   If your daughter still can’t sleep, seeing a counselor or child psychologist, as well as your pediatrician, could help.  A licensed medical professional might be able to spot a problem that you weren’t able to see, or even suggest certain types of medications that your daughter may need in order to get her sleep schedule back on track.           

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