The Teenage Sleep Guide

11 Min Read | By Robert Rosenberg

Last Modified 1 June 2023   First Added 1 May 2015

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

If you have teenage children, you will notice that their sleeping habits are perhaps quite different from your own. Late nights, lie-ins, and skipping breakfast – teenagers and sleep have a love/hate relationship.

How much sleep does a teenager need?

Parents, we spoke to Sleep expert Dr Robert S Rosenberg to answer all your questions about teenagers and sleep. He said:

“Teenagers have significant changes in their circadian rhythms. They require more sleep than adults. In most studies, they seem to do best with nine to ten hours of sleep. Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep.”

Stanford University conducted a study on sleep and student-athletes. They found that the closer to ten hours the student-athlete slept, the more their athletic performance improved.

Why are teenagers sleepy?

Teenagers have a different sleeping pattern compared to children and adults, and this is due to their circadian rhythm (internal body clock) shifting by around 2-3 hours – also known as a sleep phase delay. It means they tend to want to go to bed and get up later too.

Healthline states that teenagers’ melatonin (the sleepy hormone) may not rise until closer to 10 or 11 pm, or even later. This means their peak sleepy hours are from around 3-7 am.

How long does the teenage phase of sleep last?

In most teenagers, the delay in circadian rhythms is over during their early twenties. However, about 7% will continue to manifest this problem as adults.

Does sleep differ for teenage boys and girls?

No, boys and girls seem to need the same amount of sleep. However, insomnia appears to be more common in girls, and this may be because teenage girls generally experience more interpersonal stressors about their relationships than boys do.

The circadian rhythm of teenagers changes dramatically, making them more awake at night.

Do teenagers sleep more than adults and children?

Dr Robert S Rosenberg says, “They do not sleep as much as children. School-age children need ten to eleven hours of sleep. As for why children and adolescents need more sleep than adults, it is partly related to neural development, which occurs throughout sleep, and it is also related to growth. We produce most of our growth hormone while asleep, especially in a deep sleep (slow wave), which occurs during the first few hours of sleep.”

What are the consequences of teenagers not getting enough sleep?

“There are several consequences. The first is a definite increase in car accidents, and another is an increased incidence of athletic injuries. Insufficient sleep is also a significant cause of cognitive problems, such as paying attention in school and impulse control. Finally, there is a higher incidence of depression, anxiety and suicide in sleep-deprived teenagers.” says Dr Robert S Rosenberg.

Mental health, teenagers, and sleep

Mental health and sleep are interlinked. They influence each other and, in some cases, can cause problems, especially in teens. For adolescents or for the parents/guardians of a teen, understanding how sleep and mental health interact can be beneficial. Join us as we discuss the topic…

1. Depression and sleep

Depression and sleep are heavily related topics. Both can impact each other, especially during our teenage years.

In fact, of the many children and teenagers who suffer from depression and depressive symptoms, it’s been estimated that 90% of them also suffer from sleep problems. Additionally, 70% of all depressed people show symptoms of insomnia.

It was widely believed in the past that sleep problems were a result of depression. The negative thoughts from depression would cause worry and anxiety, preventing sleep. The prevention of sleep would facilitate tiredness and further negative thinking, creating a feedback loop that would only promote further insomnia and depression.

2. Anxiety and sleep

Anxiety and sleep are also linked. If your teen is displaying signs of anxiety, it could start to impact their sleeping habits.

Approximately 25% of teenagers are affected by anxiety. This disorder involves excessive fear and worry and impacts the day-to-day of those who have it. Anxiety disorders come in all shapes and sizes, including General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), phobias, OCD, and more.

3. Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD covers a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders that impact communication and social interaction. They are conditions that are usually diagnosed in childhood and adolescents, and persist into adult life.

It’s been found that younger individuals with ASD have a high prevalence of sleep problems, including insomnia. These sleeping issues can also create a negative feedback loop that results in a worse quality of life for individuals with this condition.

If your teen suffers from ASD, helping them improve their sleep can improve their lifestyle. It can prevent daytime sleepiness and is often included in treatment and care.

Are there any sleep disorders that affect teenagers?

Yes, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Dr Robert S Rosenberg says, “This is a common circadian disorder seen in teenagers more than in any other group, and it is due to the shift mentioned above in their circadian clocks. Basically, it is a form of social jet lag. If allowed to go to sleep and wake up later, they do fine. However, because of early school start times, they go through the day sleep deprived.”

In all cases, speak to your GP if you need any advice.

Sleep expert Dr Robert Rosenberg answers our questions on Teen Sleep

How teenagers can recharge their batteries

Here are a few solutions your teen can try that can help with their mental health and improve their sleep.

1. Healthy sleep habits

Simple changes to your teen’s sleeping habits and routines can have monumental effects on their quality of slumber and well-being. By simply altering a few aspects, they can feel happier and feel more energetic as a result.

Here are a few ways to improve basic sleep habits to help alleviate mental health and sleep problems:

  • Set a regular bedtime and waketime.
  • Drink plenty of water upon waking and throughout the day (2 litres is usually the average)
  • Avoid caffeine from the late afternoon (and alcohol if your teen is of age)
  • Dim lights and remove electronic devices (except sleep-benefiting tech)
  • Get regular light exposure during the morning and daytime.
  • Improve the comfort of your teen’s bed and sleeping environment.

2. Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are also an excellent way to combat negative thoughts. Meditation methods can help calm your mind and prepare you for sleep. Simply listening to your breath and closing your mind is an excellent place to start.

3. Lifestyle changes

General lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise can also benefit your sleep and alleviate mental health issues in teens. For mental health, exercise has been seen to have a positive impact, reducing anxiety and stress. Even taking a brisk walk can improve your mood and increase mental awareness.

Moderate to vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality in teens and reduce the time they lie awake in bed. Additionally, exercise can help to decrease daytime sleepiness.

4. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) effectively involves talking and discussion. It aims to examine thinking pathways and eliminate negative, limiting thoughts and behaviours that a patient may be experiencing.

CBT is a technique often used for insomnia, as well as depression and anxiety. CBT can remove any negative thoughts your teen could have before bed regarding sleep, giving them the confidence to fall asleep and get a good night’s rest.

CBT-I (the variation of CBT focused on insomnia) has a good history of tackling sleep-related issues. Your teen can reduce symptoms and achieve solid rest by challenging thoughts, displacing negative emotions, and addressing sleep-incompatible behaviours resulting from poor sleep, your teen can start to reduce their symptoms and achieve solid rest.

5. Using a weighted blanket

Weighted blankets are a therapeutic method to improve sleep in teens. These blankets can weigh up to 30 pounds, and there are a few studies that suggest they can provide several benefits.

In a 2014 study, it was found that weighted blankets helped to reduce sleeping problems. Similarly, in a 2011 study, it was found weight blankets could reduce night-time disturbances and reduce sleep onset time.

Weighted blankets achieve this by providing deep pressure stimulation, which can reduce anxiety and improve mood. It also de-stressed individuals, which could be another reason why it improves sleep.

6. Regulate temperature 

Did you know that temperature is one of the most critical factors governing sleep? It’s been indicated by studies that a hotter environment may have a negative impact on your sleep. Therefore, if you want to improve your teen’s slumber, keeping their room cool could provide decent benefits.

According to Healthline:

“Your body begins to shed warmth right about the time you go to bed and continues to cool down until reaching its low point near daybreak… If the temperature in your sleeping environment is too hot or cold, it may affect the drop in your body’s internal temperature and cause you to have disrupted sleep.”

7. Use a lightbox

Lightboxes are exactly what they sound like – a box that emits light. They stay in your bedroom and can be used to optimise your circadian rhythms. By correcting your sleeping and waking times, your teens can get better, deeper sleep and wake up at the perfect time.

5 ways to get your tired teenager out of bed

Shifting a tired teenager from their cave-like bed is impossible, but hopefully, parents, these tips can help you out.

1. Manipulate time

We know you can’t manipulate time, but you can get everyone in your household up a little earlier than they currently do.

A wake-up time of even ten minutes earlier could be the difference between your teen getting out of the door in time. And if they’re tough to turf out of bed, then being able to lie in bed for ten minutes before getting up might be the trick to making their mornings a little easier.

2. Let there be light

Sunlight helps us all to wake up in the morning, inhibiting the release of melatonin – the sleep hormone – which helps us feel more alert and ready to get on with the day. Do your tired teenager a favour and treat them to the miracle of sunshine in the morning by simply opening their curtains.

4. Embrace the noise

One surefire way to get anyone out of bed is to make as much noise as possible. Nobody can lie under the covers comfortably whilst there’s a racket going on. This is why this trick could be the one that works for you!

There are a few ways to go about this. You could go old-school and use a pan and wooden spoon to stir your sleepy teenager from their slumber. The other options include allowing younger, noisy siblings to play in your teen’s bedroom or, finally, using some awful music to get them up and about.

Simply place a music player out of your child’s reach and play some music from a musician they can’t stand. It might not make you their favourite person, but they’ll get out of bed to switch it off!

4. A bit of TLC

If you don’t fancy torturing your child, consider treating them in the morning to something that will entice them away from their mattress. Being told, there’s a cup of tea waiting for you first thing in the morning is always a lovely gesture and takes less time than messing with their alarm clocks!

5. It’s not on you!

Finally, you need to accept that making sure your teenager gets to where they need to be on time is not your responsibility. It’s all well and good taking charge of their time management when they’re younger, or even if they have an important day, but the onus falls on them most of the time. Your child needs to learn what it takes to be punctual and prepared, and if they struggle to get out of bed in the morning, then it may just be something they need to learn to fix.

On the other hand, if they seem constantly reluctant to remove themselves from under their duvet, there may be a bigger issue. Talk to your child to see if there are any issues you weren’t aware of, and you can resolve them together.

teenager in bed

Should we cut teenagers slack when we struggle to prise them out of bed?

We all know how hard it can be to get out of bed sometimes, especially as a teenager with a busy schedule. Let’s cut them a little slack. After all, they are still growing and developing, which takes up tremendous amounts of energy. Just remember the importance of a healthy sleep schedule and encourage good sleep habits. Here is what Dr Rosenberg has to say on the subject:

“Yes, but it goes deeper than that. We must convince our local schools to institute later start times, especially for teenagers. In the USA, several studies have demonstrated an improvement in academic performance and a decrease in motor vehicle accidents in school districts that have adopted this policy.”

The differences in teenagers’ sleep to that of adults and children could lead to misunderstandings, but the stereotypical ‘lazy teens’ aren’t necessarily lagging on purpose. Have Dr Rosenberg’s answers helped you understand teen sleep any better? Check out his book Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day.

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