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Teenagers and sleep

Starting around puberty, kids start getting tired later at night. While it might seem like they need less sleep, in fact, teens need about 9 hours of sleep at night. Unfortunately, most teens do not get the sleep they need.

What Makes it Hard for Teens to Sleep?

Several factors make it hard for teens to get the sleep they need:

  • Schedule. The average teen gets tired around 11 p.m. and has to get up between 6 and 7 a.m. to get to school on time. This makes it impossible to get 9 hours of sleep. Some high schools have changed their hours to start later. Students' grades and athletic performance at these schools improved as a result. Just like their parents, many teens are juggling busy schedules. Weeknight school and social activities cut into teens' quality sleep time. They get home later and have a harder time winding down.
  • Homework. The push to succeed can backfire when kids sacrifice sleep to do homework. After a night of too little sleep, your teen may not be able to focus in class or absorb new material. Teens need both work and rest to keep their minds sharp.
  • Texting. Phones make poor bedfellows, especially when they go off in the middle of the night. Teens may think every text message has to be answered right away, no matter how late. Even early evening texts can disrupt sleep. Hearing constant text alerts can make it impossible to wind down and relax into sleep.

Sleep and Teen Health

Like adults, teens who do not get enough sleep are at risk for a number of problems in school and with their health, including:

  • Depression and low self esteem
  • Sleepiness and trouble concentrating
  • Decline in school performance and grades
  • Moodiness and trouble getting along with family and friends
  • Greater risk of car accidents
  • Tendency to overeat and gain weight

What Parents can do

Teach your teen ways to get a good night's sleep. Then be a good role model and practice what you preach.

  • Make rules about bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night can make it easier for your teen to wind down and drift off. Set a bedtime for your teen, and yourself, and make sure you stick with it.
  • Limit nighttime activities. Keep an eye on the number of nights your teen stays at school late or goes out with friends. Consider limiting the number of weeknights your child stays out past dinner.
  • Offer homework support. Talk to teens about their class load and homework. If they have a heavy semester, help them schedule homework time and limit other activities. Make sure your kids have a good, quiet place to study.
  • Set technology boundaries. Talk to your teen about text messages. Ask how they feel if they do not respond to a text right away, then set a time when texting has to stop. You might make a rule that no devices are allowed in the bedroom after a certain hour.
  • Promote relaxing activities. In the hour or so before bedtime, encourage your child to do something relaxing. This might mean reading a book or taking a warm shower. Encourage your teen to explore ways to unwind so sleep can come.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if your teen is not sleeping well and it interferes with his or her health or ability to do daily activities.

References

Adams SK, Kisler TS. Sleep quality as a mediator between technology-related sleep quality, depression, and anxiety. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2013;16(1):25-30. PMID: 23320870 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23320870.

Crowley SJ, Tarokh L, Carskadon MA. Sleep during adolescence. In: Sheldon SH, Ferber R, Kryger MH, Gozal D, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Sleep Medicine. 2nd ed. Elsevier; 2014:chap 6.

Short MA, Gradisar M, Wright H, Lack LC, Dohnt H, Carskadon MA. Time for bed: parent-set bedtimes associated with improved sleep and daytime functioning in adolescents. Sleep. 2011;34(6):797-800. PMID: 21629368 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21629368.

Styne DM, Grumbach MM. Physiology and disorders of puberty. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 25.

Review Date 8/22/2016

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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