It may seem that your teen can sleep around the clock, especially during school holidays. While that’s not precisely true, teens do need more sleep to help them be their best during busy days. The Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health suggests that teens should aim for 9-10 hours of sleep a day, based on scientific research and study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adolescents who do not get enough sleep are at risk of health and behavioral challenges. Alarmingly, lack of sleep is common: the CDC analyzed data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Study and determined that 7 out of 10 high schoolers, or 72.7%, did not get enough sleep on school nights.
Added to the regular stresses faced by teens are the additional challenges posed by the pandemic, which has brought about increased sleep difficulties for many. In fact, “coronasomnia,” as researchers dub it, has increased the levels of clinically significant insomnia for all age groups.
How Much Sleep Does A Teenager Need?
Everyone’s need for sleep is unique to them, but teens, in general, need more rest than pre-teens. That is partly due to the changes that they are experiencing in their bodies during puberty. That 9-10 hours of sleep a night allows your teen’s body to refresh and recharge itself while at the same time supporting a level of growth that adults aren’t dealing with.
Not only that, but their brains are developing as well, leading to greater emotional and intellectual maturity and cognitive development, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine. More sleep helps them negotiate their growing pains and leaves them better able to resist serious health challenges such as depression or drug use.
One primary factor affecting teens’ need for sleep is their circadian rhythm, also known as the internal clock. Circadian rhythm is influenced by the sun and other light sources to tell us when we should be awake and when it’s time to go to bed.
When a teen keeps irregular hours — up till 2 am studying one night, crashing the next at 10 pm — it’s easy for that circadian rhythm to get out of whack. Resetting it can take days and requires your teen to establish a daily routine: to bed at night and up in the morning at roughly the same time each day. Oversleeping one day and pulling an all-nighter the next, in other words, isn’t healthy for teens (or anyone, for that matter) and should be avoided at all costs.
Why Do Teens Need More Sleep?
Sleep Problems In Teens
Teens as a group are probably more prone to sleep problems than other groups. With their active social lives, schedules that are bursting with activities and the increasing classwork/homework demands as they progress through high school, there are lots of reasons why sleep may be long in coming even when they do get to bed at a reasonable hour.
High school often starts earlier in the mornings than middle or elementary schools, meaning your teens may be getting up before the sun is up. Those early start times can be hard to get used to. Plus, many students have a huge course load, which means they’re up late studying and doing work every night.
As anyone who’s been a teen knows, those are stressful years. But, it’s also a fun time in a child’s life — full of sports games, Friday nights out, shopping trips with friends, and all kinds of exciting things. It can be hard to balance that with school and perhaps a part-time job. Not only does the schedule add to their stress, but if you have a teen who isn’t doing well in school or is getting picked on, they may be carrying burdens that are too much to handle for anyone. Those stressors can easily lead to sleepless nights.
Most likely, your teen has their cell phone in bed with them at night, and if they’re scrolling social media or texting friends, it might be keeping them up later than you realize. All of those bright lights and noises will keep them awake rather than help them sleep. Why? Studies show that the blue light emitted by our devices is detrimental to sleep, disturbing our circadian rhythms more than any other color of light. Experts suggest that you should put away your devices several hours before bed — but that’s a hard thing to ask of a Tik Tok-addicted teen.
During the teen years, when your adolescent children are trying to figure out just who they are in the world, it’s common for them to do a mental compare-and-contrast with their peers. If others are doing it, then they want to do whatever it is as well. And when their friends boast of staying up all night to watch YouTube videos or prepping for an exam, your teen may want to match that endeavor. Sometimes, copying the acts of others is a good thing. And sometimes it’s not. For impressionable teens, staying up till all hours may look like a way to be one of the popular kids, but they pay the price for their loss of sleep in reality.
6 Tips For Sleep-Deprived Teens
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for handling sleep-deprived teens. It may take time and effort to gradually move your teen in the direction of good sleeping habits, and you may get some pushback when you try. If you are the parent or teacher of a teen, you may have noticed that they like to make their own decisions and often distrust the wisdom of their elders. (You were probably like that yourself, once).
Here are a few ideas, however, that may help you convince your teen that the benefits of a good night’s slumber far outweigh the drawbacks.
- Set rules about screen use. Aim to have teens shut down their smartphones 1-2 hours before bedtime. Have a charging station for family devices that’s in the kitchen or some other public space, rather than your teen’s bedroom.
- Set a bedtime schedule. Your teen may balk at this, but as the parent, you can determine when things should quiet down in the household — which may lead your teen to bed out of boredom if nothing else.
- Keep your teen away from heavy snacks at night. A light snack, like an apple or handful of almonds, is fine. Some foods, in fact, encourage good sleep — like the classic glass of warm milk. Stock your shelves with them, and suggest them to your teen when they’re hungry.
- Get your teen up early on the weekends. Yes, it’s fine to let them sleep till 8 if they’re used to getting up at 6 on school days. But if you can keep them from sleeping until noon, you’ll be doing them a favor by keeping their internal clock running smoothly.
- Invest in good bedding and a comfortable mattress. The key here is to make them want to go to bed because it’s comfortable and welcoming.
- If your teen takes naps, encourage them to keep them short. A 20-minute “power nap” will do more to restore your teen than three hours of afternoon slumber.
Spotlight on Teens With Part-Time Jobs
Managing school and a part-time job can be challenging, but it’s a reality for some teens. That can lead to some harsh decisions — giving up a sport, for example, that takes up considerable time for practices and games. Here are a few tips for teens working to juggle the demands of both their teachers and their boss.
- Schedule, schedule, schedule
Work with your teen to develop a realistic schedule that prioritizes getting enough sleep, as well as leaving time for study. Building and writing down a solid schedule doesn’t come easy to many teens, but developing this habit can yield lifetime benefits.
- Be vigilant
Watch your teen to be sure that they are meeting their commitments, but not at the expense of their health. If you see a study light on in your teen’s room at 2 a.m., for example, you may want to step in to help them over a rough patch by, say, relieving them of a household chore so they can study.
- Give them space
At the same time, it’s important to allow your teen to learn lessons without hovering over them. It’s a fine line to walk — being supportive but not overbearing — and every parent does it differently. That said, remember that sometimes a painful experience (such as getting a poor grade on a test) can lead to growth.
- Make your home sleep friendly
Are you up watching the Late Late Show in the family room till the wee hours? Do you tend to sleep till noon on the weekends yourself? Consider revamping your whole family’s sleep schedule so that all clearly observe quiet hours.
Here’s The Bottom Line
Our society asks a lot of teens. We expect them to do well in school, excel at extracurricular activities, maintain a social life, and, sometimes, work — either to help support their family or so they can afford new purchases on their own. There’s one common denominator to all that, and it’s getting enough sleep. If your teen is averaging 9-10 hours of sleep a night, they will earn better grades and be able to manage a full schedule much better than if they’re burning the midnight oil regularly. It’s important to support your teen as they negotiate this tricky phase in their life so that they can be the best — and most well-rested — version of themselves every day.
- Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health. V.13 (1). Jan. 2008. Accessed at the National Institutes of Health website. Teens and Sleep: Why You Need It and How to Get Enough. Accessed May 21, 2021.
- CDC website. Sleep in Middle and High School Students.Published September 10, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2021.
- Wheaton, Anne G., et al. Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2015. Published January 26, 2018. Accessed May 21, 2021.
- UC Davis Health. COVID-19 Is Wrecking Our Sleep With Coronasomnia — Tips to Fight Back. Published September 23, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2021.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Teenagers and Sleep: How Much Sleep is Enough? Published, n.d. Accessed May 21. 2021.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. Poor Sleep Can Negatively Affect a Student’s Grades, Increase the Odds of Emotional and Behavioral Disturbance. Published June 9, 2008. Accessed May 21, 2021.