Q In the last six months I have been having much difficulty sleeping. It’s hard to fall asleep and even when I do I wake up throughout the night. In the morning I am tired and at times irritable through the whole day. Should I consider sleeping medication?

A Plenty of sound sleep is an essential need for energy, positive mood, and overall health. Most Americans are not getting the rest they need during the night. Firstly, think back and identify what changed for you six months ago. Was there a new stressor in your life? Did you have a change in job, relationship, illness, hormones, death, residence? Any major life event can drastically alter sleep patterns. Do you find yourself thinking about anything in particular when you are awake at night? If so, you want to deal with your worries more directly by talking with someone about them. Are you eating or drinking stimulants such as caffeine, hot peppers or excessive sugar in the evening?

Before taking sleeping medication, try some of the following treatments. Take a hot bath in the evening to relax you. Do some deep breathing or meditation before sleep. There is an audiotape called, “Easing into Sleep” by Dr. Emmett Miller that you can play when you go to bed. Drink chamomile tea at bedtime. Imagine putting all your thoughts in another room before entering the bedroom. Go to bed with as clear a mind as possible. Before you consider sleeping medication, you may want to try herbal formulas available at health food stores. If you decide to take medication ask your doctor about the side effects and their addictive tendencies.

Q I have a 15-year-old son who sleeps a lot. He has a hard time getting up in the morning to go to school and he sleeps till noon on the weekends. I have tried to tell him to change his habits, but he doesn’t seem motivated or is unable. I don’t know what to do.

A This is not uncommon for teenage boys. But there are ways to help him. Find out what time he is going to bed. Is he staying awake watching television, talking on the phone, or on the computer late into the night? He should go to bed by 10 p.m. if he needs to get up by 7 a.m. This gives him over eight hours of sleep. Some teenage boys who sleep too much are actually depressed about something. They often don’t talk about it, but are unmotivated, disinterested, negative, and sleep a lot. If you see these signs, then address his mood issues.

How is your son doing in school? If he is doing poorly, he may not want to get up and face another difficult day. Does he have friends and lots of stimulating activities that he enjoys? He needs to get at least an hour of exercise each day. How is his diet? Is he eating heavy foods late at night? Talk to him about all these things and see where the problem is. He may need more structure and support in his life.

Alzak Amlani is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. He can be reached at (650) 325-8393 or through his website: www.wholenesstherapy.com

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