Teens and sleep. At this point, teens and their love of sleep and seemingly endless capacity for hours in bed is pretty much a cliche. As you might suspect, one of the main reasons behind the need for Zzz’s is largely based on the fact that they’re in a period of rapid growth. Find out why your teen needs more sleep than ever before, how much they should be getting and how to ensure they’re getting enough.
How much sleep does a teenager need?
Most pediatricians and sleep experts recommend teenagers get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. If the average is around 9 ½ hours of sleep a night, that’s an hour more than what they needed when they were 10, which can be tricky to fit in as they ramp up commitments with academics, sports, jobs, and friends.
Why your teen needs so much sleep
The teen years are a period of rapid growth and change in both mind and body for your teen. In fact, your teenager’s body and brain are growing at the fastest rate since they were toddlers. Not to mention, the massive amount of hormonal changes that are happening at the same time. Sleep is the body’s time to rest, repair, and rebuild and all that growth happens while your teen is sleeping.
Puberty is when their circadian rhythm starts to shift. Whereas before puberty, they may naturally have started to feel sleepy around 8:00 at night, but now their natural sleep-wake cycle has shifted by a couple of hours. Now they don’t start feeling tired until closer to 10:00 or 11:00 at night. According to UCLA Health, “The natural shift in a teen's circadian rhythms is called "sleep phase delay." The need to sleep is delayed for about two hours. At first, teens may appear to be suffering from insomnia. They will have a hard time falling asleep at the usual time. While they begin going to sleep later, they still need an average of nine hours of sleep at night. Because most teens have to wake up early for school, it is important for them to go to bed on time.”
Setting up sleep success
With the shift in their circadian rhythms, most teens won’t feel sleepy until closer to 11pm and will still have to wake up early for school the next morning. Then when the weekend comes, they’ll spend most of Saturday and Sunday catching up on all the lost sleep they missed during the week, which continues to further throw off a healthy sleep schedule.
- Suggest a short nap (30 to 45 minutes) after school or before dinner) to help with daytime sleepiness.
- Pare down any excess extracurriculars during the week that might be causing bedtimes to get pushed later than necessary.
- Help your teen rearrange their schedule to start homework earlier if they know evening activities like sports or after-school jobs will take up most of their night
- Remove screens from the bedroom after a certain time at night
- Petition local high schools toward later start times
- Get them a checkup to make sure there are no underlying sleep issues that may be causing excessive tiredness like sleep apnea, insomnia, untreated depression, or anxiety.
The dangers of not enough sleep
Aside from feeling tired, teens who routinely don’t get enough sleep can have trouble concentrating in school and can experience mood swings, irritability, inattention, poor decision making, and symptoms of depression. Sleep plays a major role in learning and memory, mood, emotion, and even things like appetite, weight gain, and metabolism. Drowsy-driving car crashes take the lives of 1,500 people each year, with those under 25 being the vast majority of the drivers responsible for the incidents.
The restorative powers of sleep are so important, especially for teens, that it’s critical for parents to help model good sleep patterns for their teens, and get them in the habit of getting enough sleep. It’s more than just giving them a bedtime as if they were a toddler again, but ensuring they are getting enough restful time to support their growing bodies while supporting memory and cognition to succeed in school the next day.