Sleep in Adolescents

What to expect

Adolescents are notorious for not getting enough sleep. The average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between 7 and 7 ¼ hours. However, they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours (studies show that most teenagers need exactly 9 ¼ hours of sleep). Teenagers do not get enough sleep for a number of reasons:

  • Shift in sleep schedule. After puberty, there is a biological shift in an adolescent’s internal clock of about 2 hours, meaning that a teenager who used to fall asleep at 9:00 PM will now not be able to fall asleep until 11:00PM. It also means waking 2 hours later in the morning.

  • Early high school start times. In most school districts, the move to high school is accompanied by an earlier school start time. Some high schools start as early as 7:00 AM, meaning that some teenagers have to get up as early as 5:00 AM to get ready for and travel to school.

  • Social and school obligations. Homework, sports, after-school activities (often occurring during the evening), and socializing lead to late bedtimes.

As a result, most adolescents are very sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation will impact on many aspects of your teenager’s functioning:

  • Mood. Sleep deprivation will cause your teenager to be moody, irritable, and cranky. In addition, she will have a difficult time regulating her mood, such as by getting frustrated or upset more easily.

  • Behavior. Teenagers who are sleep deprived are also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking, driving fast, and engaging in other dangerous activities.

  • Cognitive ability. Inadequate sleep will result in problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity, all of which are important in school.

  • Academic performance. Studies show that teenagers who get less sleep are more apt to get poor grades in school, fall asleep in school, and have school tardiness/absences.

  • Drowsy driving. Teenagers are at the highest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is the most likely to occur in the middle of the night (2:00 to 4:00 AM), but also in mid-afternoon (3:00 to 4:00 PM).

How to help your teenager get enough sleep

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Your teenager should go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day. Her sleep schedule should also ensure adequate time in bed.

  • Avoid oversleeping on weekends. Although catching up on some sleep on the weekends can be helpful, sleeping in until noon on Sunday will make it hard for your teenager to get back on a school schedule that night.

  • Take early afternoon naps. A nap of 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon can be beneficial.

  • Turn off televisions, computers, and radios. Television viewing, computer-game playing, internet use, and other stimulating activities at bedtime will cause problems falling asleep.

  • Avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and drugs. All of these cause sleep problems.

  • Contact your teenager’s doctor. Speak to your adolescent’s physician if she has difficulties falling asleep, snores, or seems excessively sleepy during the day. 

Adapted from: Mindell JA & Owens JA (2003). A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.