Professional support options for teen sleep issues

Teen girl seeing a doctor PC

While occasional sleep disruptions are a common part of growing up, persistent sleep issues can impact your teen’s overall wellbeing.

If they’re continuing to have sleep issues, despite both your efforts to put some practical self-help strategies in place, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

These experts can dig deeper into your teen’s sleep issues and what might be going on, as well as provide personalised advice and treatment options to help get your teen back on track.

General practitioner (GP)

When to see a GP:

  • Your teen’s sleep issues have been going on for more than a few weeks (e.g. trouble either falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early).

  • Their sleep issues are linked to daytime fatigue, irritability, mood changes or poor concentration.

Often the best place to start is with your teen’s GP. They can assess your teen’s overall health, lifestyle and daily routines, identify possible causes of their sleep issues, and rule out any underlying medical conditions that might be contributing to the problem.

They might offer recommendations for treatment, such as lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioural techniques or, in some cases, medication. They can also educate both you and your teen about the benefits of and strategies for maintaining good sleep hygiene.

If needed, your teen’s GP can refer them to another professional, too, such as a sleep specialist or mental health professional. To find a GP in your area, you can visit Health Direct – Find a GP.

Sleep specialist

When to see a sleep specialist:

  • Your teen’s sleep issues have continued despite implementing recommended strategies.

  • You (or your teen’s GP) suspect that your teen may have a specific sleep disorder.

  • Your teen’s daytime symptoms are severe, such as excessive sleepiness, fatigue, irritability or mood changes.

  • You’ve noticed unusual behaviours, such as loud snoring, pauses in breathing, or episodes of sleepwalking or night terrors.

Sleep specialists (also known as ‘sleep medicine specialists’ or ‘sleep physicians’) focus on diagnosing and treating a range of sleep disorders and conditions, such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorders, and many others.

A sleep specialist can carry out an in-depth sleep assessment, which may include sleep studies, to accurately diagnose the underlying causes of your teen’s sleep issues. From there, they’ll work with your teen to create a personalised treatment plan.

Sleep specialists work in a range of settings, such as sleep clinics, sleep centres and hospitals, and often alongside other health-care professionals. To find a sleep specialist, start with your teen’s GP, who will likely have knowledge of local specialists and can provide referrals based on your teen’s specific needs.

Mental health professional

When to see a mental health professional:

  • Your teen’s sleep issues are coinciding with signs of emotional or psychological distress, such as persistent sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability or mood swings.

  • Your teen’s sleep issues seem to be linked to stressors, such as family changes, academic pressures or social challenges.

  • Your teen is struggling to manage stress and to cope with life’s challenges.

It’s well known that sleep issues often go hand in hand with mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. Mental health professionals such as psychologists and counsellors can help your teen to navigate challenges that might be impacting their sleep and work with them on developing some coping strategies.

It’s a good idea to involve your teen in the decision-making process and to make sure they’re comfortable with the type of professional you’re thinking about. Your teen’s GP can help with this process and refer your teen, or you could search an online directory such as Australian Psychological Society’s ‘Find a Psychologist’.

Your teen could also consider chatting with a peer worker. Sometimes it can be easier to talk about mental health and life challenges with someone who’s been there, and who can offer support based on their own lived experience. Check out this video to learn more about the role of peer workers and how they can help your teen.

Find out more ways to support your teen with getting help for mental health concerns.

School counsellor

When to see a school counsellor:

  • Your teen’s sleep issues are linked to academic pressures, workload or study stress.

  • Your teen’s sleep issues are linked to social challenges or bullying.

  • Your teen’s sleep issues are linked to big transitions, such as changing schools, starting high school, or moving up a grade.

Teens often find themselves caught between sleep and school demands. From our own research, we’ve found that school and study stress has a big impact on young people’s sleep.

As mental health professionals, school counsellors can help your teen with general challenges they might be having, supporting them with developing stress and time management techniques, or helping them to establish structured routines. But if your teen’s sleep issues seem to be linked to school-related factors, then a school counsellor can be particularly helpful with:

  • communicating and liaising with teachers and school staff

  • communicating and working with parents and carers

  • providing study skills and tips and academic support

  • understanding social challenges, friendship group dynamics and bullying

  • making referrals to other health-care professionals if needed.

To book in with a school counsellor, just get in touch with your school’s counselling department or administration for support and guidance.

Other helpful resources

For more information and support, check out these Australian resources:

  • Sleep Health Foundation: Here you’ll find a wealth of information on various sleep disorders and on sleep hygiene, and tips for improving sleep quality. Evidence-based resources and tools can help you decide what to do about your teen’s sleep issues.

  • Australasian Sleep Association (ASA): ASA focuses on sleep research, education and clinical practice, and offers a range of helpful resources.

  • ReachOut Parents One-on-one Support: Get free, personalised support to help you understand your teen’s sleep issues and not feel alone during a tough time.

  • The ReachOut Parents Online Community: A safe and anonymous space to chat about what’s going on for you and your teen with other parents who understand.

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