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I would like to sleep, but I can’t

The existence of a healthy sleep cycle is essential since it influences the regeneration of our bodies and souls. The lack of this can make our days harder. I talked to Dr Adrienn Németh child and youth psychologist about this.

When can we talk about sleep disorder?

The sleep cycle is an important part of our everyday lives. It significantly influences the regeneration of our bodies and souls. Sleep disorder is a state of not being able to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep, which means that it does not give you a chance to relax. People normally complain about being tired in the morning and they do not possess an adequate amount of energy.

We can differentiate among three types of sleep disorder. One of them is called insomnia (the difficulty of falling asleep and staying asleep), which can consist of the inability to fall asleep, the disruption of sleep by constant waking up, or waking up too early. Consequently, the sufferers do not spend enough time sleeping and the pattern of the normal sleep cycle becomes disturbed. The complete opposite of this is the so called hypersomnia, which is based on an increased need to sleep. It can also happen that somebody is able to sleep 10-12 hours in one go, but it is still not quality sleep and is, therefore, not relaxing.

The third type is called parasomnia, where it is primarily the process of falling asleep or waking up that is disturbed. Some examples belonging to this group are nightmares, sleepwalking, bruxism and the restless legs syndrome.

How much is the optimal sleeping time?

The optimal amount of sleep changes with age. Infants need a lot of sleep. It lessens a bit for a young child, but they still need about 10-12 hours of sleep a day. For teenagers and adults, this is reduced to 7 or 8 hours, but in reality, people spend even less time sleeping. This might further lessen for older people and pensioners.

What are the main reasons behind sleep disorder?

A lot of factors influence it. It is important to distinguish between bodily and emotional causes. A bodily cause can be problems with the thyroid. If it works insufficiently that can lead to hypersomnia and if it overworks, that can lead to insomnia. Apart from this, any kind of internal or chronic disease can lead to sleep disturbance, therefore somatic examination is extremely important.

It can also be the first tell-tale sign of mood disorders if the quality or quantity of sleep declines. In a lot of cases, it is the introductory symptom of depression. This is important to point out, because in a lot of cases the real problem does not get detected, but sleeping pills are prescribed instead to stop the condition.

At the moment, there is no medicine to restore the healthy sleeping cycle. Furthermore, most sleeping pills have a rebound effect, which results in the liver releasing such material during the day that rebound and that makes the patient feel sleepy in the afternoon already, which can be extremely dangerous in a traffic situation or can easily lead to accidents at the workplace.

What kind of symptoms does sleeping disorders have?

The three types have different symptoms. Insomnia is the most commonly occurring sleep disorder. The sufferer finds it hard to fall asleep, cannot sleep for a long time, wakes up a lot of times during the night, or wakes up early in the morning and cannot fall asleep again. The effects of this are felt during the day. They will feel tired, they cannot concentrate. On the long run, hunger is another commonly occurring symptom.

With hypersomnia, one is not able to wake up in the morning and sleeps for a long time. Parasomnia is not as common as the other two, but in this case, it is mostly the environment that notices the symptoms. These can be: waking up startled by a nightmare, talking while sleeping, walking while sleeping or grinding teeth. The last one is normally revealed at dentist examinations in the case of injured teeth surfaces.

How often do these problems come up during puberty?

80% of the children in the puberty department are characterized by one of these groups of symptoms. This can be identified by their haphazard daily routine and their inability to sleep well. This can often be paralleled with some kind of emotional problems.

There are some cases where the inappropriate daily routine results in the lack of sleep. Some children engage in vivid activities during the night – they chat, watch movies, etc. – and after a certain time, they find it impossible to fall asleep any more. It is not necessarily the result of some mood problems, but it completely messes up their daily routine. The consequence is that their school results get worse and they find it impossible to concentrate.

What can be done to avoid this?

The first step is to reveal what are the causes that led to the problem. If it has psychological or medical reasons, those must be treated. If no reason can be identified and the root can be found in the falling apart of the daily routine or rhythm, then we can give sleep-hygienic advice. We recommend these young people to go to bed at the same time every day. They should use their beds only for sleeping, not for studying, eating or chilling. Even if they have not slept enough, they should still wake up and they should not have a nap in the afternoon, only at night. If this pattern is repeated enough times, then sooner or later they will be able to fall asleep again.

We often advise them to refrain from watching films or reading books that stir them up emotionally before going to sleep. We tell them not to eat three hours before going to bed. If they really cannot fall asleep, we recommend them to wake up and do something that is really boring for them and does not give them energy. We show them techniques to relax, which helps them fall asleep.

Is there any clinical research on this topic?

There is very few data even on an international level and in Hungary the Semmelweis University is the only institution that has carried out groundbreaking research in the field. Their study examined the frequency of sleep-related complaints and symptoms and the role of lifestyle in this. From the answers it became obvious that one third of the children suffer from some kind of sleeping disorder.

From the results, it turned out that the quality of sleep is significantly influenced by smoking, alcohol and caffeine. 87% of the younger ones and 93% of the teenagers consume some kind of caffeinated drink every day. While the majority of the younger children drink coke, the 14-18-years-olds consume coffee and energy drinks as well. 


Written by: Zsófia Tupi

Translated by: Judit Molnár