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Managing sleep and stress

by Charlotte Carney

What do we know about the importance of sleep?

Oversleeping, insomnia and disturbed sleep have all been linked to poor mental wellbeing. Studies have also shown that sleeping difficulties are widespread among teenagers (Tarokh, Saletin & Carskadon; 2016).

Disrupted sleep can harm our ability to learn, process emotions and apply attention to important activities. With this knowledge, we can identify that improved sleep quality can improve our ability to learn, process emotions and stay focused on the tasks we value (Tarokh, Saletin & Carskadon; 2016).

Why are sleeping difficulties so common in adolescence?

Current literature and research suggest that changes in our neurobiology bring about sleeping difficulties among teenagers. As we go through puberty, a neurotransmitter (Chemical messenger) called melatonin (Linked to sleep) is progressively released later and later in the evening, causing us to feel tired at a later stage of the evening than is the ‘norm’ for adults and children (Coleman, 2021).

Increased pressure from relationship difficulties, hormonal changes, academic deadlines and family dynamics can also worsen adolescent sleep (Yuksel, 2022).

How can we improve our quality of sleep?

The following tools, techniques and items are all evidence-based techniques and interventions – they should not, however, supplement professional support and care from GPs, counsellors and educational practitioners*.

Physical and sensory items and products that have been shown to improve sleep include:

Weighted blankets: Help people feel grounded and safer, data has also shown that these blankets may decrease anxiety and stress (Becklund, RappMcCall & Nudo; 2021).

Scented items: Such as lavender spray, essential oils and candles.

Ambiance music: This could be white noise, rain ambiance music on YouTube or a personalised playlist on Spotify.

Behavioural changes can also help us with managing sleep. These changes could include:

Creating a routine: This doesn’t have to be rigid set of steps you have to follow. If you struggle with routine then you could start with a simple rule such as getting into bed by 10pm or making yourself a cup of tea every night. Having a routine provides our mind the prompts needed to unwind and relax.

Setting boundaries: Boundaries help us to maintain our wellbeing, decrease anxiety, maintain our autonomy and recognise our right to choice. Boundaries can be flexible and can change with time.

How do I know what boundaries to set?

Identify what is keeping you from having the quality of sleep you deserve. Some people find that the demands of school work can keep them from unwinding, finding themselves working late into the evening and not having a clear line between work and rest. Others may struggle with overusing their phone or other technology.

Setting boundaries for overworking is something that will be personal and unique to you as an individual.

These boundaries could look like a statement; below are examples:

‘I will not complete academic work after 6pm’.

‘I don’t respond to emails and messages after 5pm’.

‘I’m taking an hour when I get home from school before I start doing homework or revision’.

Equally, if you are struggling with completing homework tasks and need support with this, you can set boundaries to help you remain accountable; below are some examples:

‘I only need to work on this homework task for an hour, after that I am allowed to decide to stop’.

‘I will create time to complete my Maths and English homework on Thursday nights’.

Boundaries with phone usage and technology will also be personal and unique to you as an individual.

These boundaries could look like a statement; below are examples:

‘I will only use one app if I remain on my phone after 10pm’. (This boundary can be helpful if you find yourself spending excessive time on multiple apps such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat).

‘I will attempt to read a book before allowing myself to scroll on my phone’. ‘I will not use my phone in bed after 11pm’.

‘I can use my phone as long as it is not in my bed space’.

These boundaries are informed by a technique called ‘harm reduction’. Harm reduction techniques are helpful when we don’t feel able to completely remove an unhealthy stimulus or behaviour.

Cognitive techniques can also be used and involve engaging our thoughts and feelings and could involve:

Visualisation: This technique is linked closely with meditation and involves imagining or perceiving a situation or outcome that we view as positive. Visualisation can be used to create an image of your ideal location, you could base this on where you feel most relax or at peace. Visualisation can also be used when we want to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. For example, imagining yourself being able to fall asleep successfully.

Affirmative statements: Affirmative statements can help decrease our anxiety and stress and remind us of what we value when we need reassurance. Affirmations can look like statements of acceptance or statements of reassurance.

Radical acceptance: A technique that may sound ‘odd’ in principle but which has been used to help those experiencing anxiety around whether they will get to sleep. This technique involves embracing the possible outcome that we may not be able to sleep, acknowledging that whilst it is not ideal, we will be able to cope. Radical acceptance as a technique is commonly used in DBT therapy (Dialectical behavioural therapy) and has been shown to positively impact those struggling with stress and anxiety (Prendiville, 2023; Pomykala, 2021). To access free and anonymous support for managing sleep scan below:

To access free and anonymous support for managing sleep scan below:




Kooth is a free and anonymous online counselling service for under 18’s. You can access personalised support from anywhere in the UK. Scan the QR code to check out their website!

Scan the QR code above to be taken to the Young Minds website! Here you can find general information and advice regarding sleeping difficulties.

Childline offer a free 1-2-1 counselling service via their website for anyone up to the age of 19 years. Speak in confidence with a trained professional – no strings attached. Scan the QR code above to learn more about this service.

If you find yourself in crisis please call 999 for an emergency, call Samaritans on 116 123 or text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258

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