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Messed Up Sleep Schedule

Published: May 16, 2012
Dear Messed Up Sleep Schedule,

Lately my sleep schedule is really messed up. I am a junior in high school and I know sleep is super important in keeping my grades up and finishing the year off strong, but I don't really control it anymore! When I get home from school, around 3, I am usually extremely exhausted. I try not to take a nap because i know i won't be able to sleep at night. But around 4:30-5 I can't take it anymore, it's like I can't focus on anything of do anything until I sleep. I can't keep my eyes open, I'm just soo tired! I usually end up going to bed, I used to take like 1 hour naps but they have turned into 2-3 hour naps. I wake up at 7 or 8 with energy, but hen 10 rolls around and i should be sleeping again, I can't sleep. I stay up between midnight and 1 just because I can't sleep. It's a vicious cycle that is turning into a real problem! Also on weekend I am extremely tired as well. Take for instance this weekend, I went to bed before 11 on Friday and woke up at 8 on Saturday which is strange because I usually sleep in way longer than that. By noon I couldn't stay awake, I went back to bed and slept until 5pm. I slept my entire day away! It's like I can't survive without naps anymore, I don't know how to fix it. I try keeping myself awake after school but I have to sleep otherwise I can't focus on my schoolwork and stay awake during it. Any advice?? -Messed up sleep schedule

Dear Messed Up Sleep Schedule,

It sounds like you are caught up in a problematic sleep cycle – you don’t get enough sleep at night, so you end up napping, but then your nap revives you so you aren’t tired enough to go to bed at a reasonable time for when you have to get up the next morning. That said, FX recommends you try and break the cycle. Take a few days without naps and then go to bed early enough that you will have had at least 8 hours of sleep by the time you need to wake up for school. And while you are trying to fix your sleep schedule, try and keep your hours of sleep consistent for the weekdays and weekends. It will be difficult to change this pattern because you will most likely have several days of feeling tired with giving up the naps. But it should be worth it in the end.

Once you have gotten on a better sleep schedule, if you ever need to nap FX suggests you do it right when you get home from school and not for more than an hour or so, so that you don’t throw off your nighttime schedule. Set your alarm or ask a family member to wake you up if you are afraid a 1 hour nap could turn into 2 or 3 hours.

In addition, consider alternate ways to energize yourself after school. You could have a healthy snack and/or you could do some light physical activity to perk yourself up. You could also hang out with friends or find some afterschool activity to get you through that time period. And don’t forget to eat breakfast and lunch – if you skip meals that could also be contributing to your fatigue in the afternoon.

If you find that you are unable to make any changes with your sleep pattern or you make the changes but aren’t feeling any better with time, then speak to your doctor about it. There are various medical and mental health issues that can contribute to fatigue that your doctor will want to evaluate if you continue to feel so exhausted.

If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.

If you think you may need professional intervention with this and you live in northern New Jersey you can also look into The Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, NJ. Call 1-866-906-5666 for more information.