Can insomnia cause brain damage?

Q:  I’m 17 and have trouble sleeping.  I’ve tried benadryl and melatonin and nothing seems to work.  I feel absolutely dead mentally, and am stressed out because I have very demanding classes in school.  Since my brain is still growing, my question is can insomnia cause brain damage that will affect me permanently in the future?

A:  There is much still unknown about sleep despite intense ongoing research.  We do know sleep is essential, required by us all, and at some point becomes irresistible.  We in fact can’t not sleep.  The key is managing the process intelligently for the best results.

Anxiety, worry, and intensely negative thoughts about sleep like you are having underlie insomnia for many if not most of us with sleeping problems.

Yes, your brain is still evolving, but no it is unlikely you will experience brain damage from a lack of sleep as long as you are making a reasonable effort for healthy sleep.  Be confident that your mind and body’s inherent requirement for sleep is in fact stronger than your insomnia.

Instead of taking pills or any artificial substance to unnaturally force sleep, we suggest simple, conservative, and common sense kinds of things to help yourself sleep better.  These might include:

  • Try to get up at the same time every day, consistently, weekends included.  Do not try to “catch up” on lost sleep.  Consistency in your sleep schedule is important.  Use an alarm clock, then get up and out of bed ASAP and expose yourself to bright light immediately, preferably indirect sunlight.  This helps reset your natural circadian rhythm, which largely controls sleep.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of regularity.
  • Set a consistent bed time.  At your age, try at least 8 to 9 hours, but see how you do.  If you’re tossing and turning, cut that back a little by going to bed a little later (keep your wake-up time set) and see what happens.  If you start sleeping better but still feel fatigued, add in a little time.  Give yourself at least a week or two with one schedule to see how you do before making changes.  You’ll soon discover your best sleep timing.
  • Be sure to schedule some time for exercise every day.  Tire yourself out mentally and physically every day, and you’ll tend to sleep better at night.
  • Try to avoid or at least minimize any caffeinated beverages or foods with caffeine (there are many, including chocolate) after lunch.
  • Allow yourself a relaxing wind-down period before bed.  This can be something like a relaxing bath, getting your clothes ready for morning, reading something enjoyable, just whatever you like doing and find relaxing so you can let stress go before bed.  Developing a consistent cool down routine before bed helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.  Avoid any sort of stress as much as possible during your wind-down time.

Think of it like this: your mind and body are like a finely-tuned machine designed to automatically get all the sleep you need.  Then relax and let go the worry about sleep.  Letting go is in fact an important component of a healthy sleep process.

If you are still having problems after trying these ideas, see a doctor for a checkup, although at your age it’s unlikely you have the kind of issues older people have.

If you want more information and ideas for better sleep naturally, check out CBT sleep training on the internet. All of these ideas are part of cognitive behavioral therapy applied to insomnia, and most people are helped by them.

There is every reason to believe you will be too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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