Teenagers and Sleep – Yes, they do need it!

teen studyingDespite what they may try to tell you, your teenagers still do need sleep, and probably a bit more than you would expect.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough).  This means that if your teen goes to bed at 11, they should not be awake before 7:30 at the earliest!  So why do so many parents have problems with their teens going to bed, and what can they do to help them?  Read on for more information!

Why Don’t They Just Go to Sleep??

Your teen is not just giving you a hard time wanting to stay awake later at night and wake earlier in the morning.  Teens actually have different sleep cycles than adults and younger children.  Their bodies are actually telling them to stay up later at night and wake later in the day.  (For an article about a study done with teens and their sleep, click here).  Because of this, there is a popular movement to switch high school and elementary school start times in many areas. Many parents I have spoken with are in support of this, but are also worried about what this would mean for teens trying to get homework done and trying to work.  It does make sense from a sleep standpoint to switch elementary and high school start times.  I do not know too many elementary school students that sleep in too late in the morning!!

How Can I Help My Teen Get More Sleep?

But what if your high school is not one of the ones that are switching their times?  And even if your school did switch, how can you help your teen get the sleep they still need?  Many of the behaviors I recommend for babies still apply for teens!

Have a regular bedtime routine
Teens should have some sort of routine before bed. They can read a book or listen to some calm (or semi-calm) music. Having the same routine every night makes their body expect sleep to come next.

Dim the lights and turn off the electronics
So I know this will not be popular with most teens, but see if you can get them to get off of the electronics for about an hour before bedtime. If that is impossible, see if you can get them turned off 30 minutes before bedtime. The light from electronics inhibits melatonin production which is a calming hormone which helps us fall asleep. Dim the lights in the house as well about an hour before bed.  And let them know why you are doing this!  Which brings me to my next suggestion:

Talk to them
Sit down with your teen and discuss how important sleep is for them.  Many studies have been done detailing how more sleep improves memory, concentration and health.  And the one that may convince them the most – lack of sleep can make you more prone to pimples!!  (Here is the article that states this if they want proof: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep  Involve them in trouble shooting what is going on. Chances are they do not like feeling exhausted in the morning.   If you support them and let them know you understand that this is not something they are trying to do, they may be willing to change what they can change.

Make their room environment conducive for sleep
Make sure your child’s room is dark at night, but in the morning, let the light in!  Room temperature when sleeping should be between 68 and 72 degrees for a good, restorative sleep.  White noise can give your teens’ brain something to concentrate on, instead of the thoughts that may be constantly swirling around in your teen’s head.  They may prefer something like an ocean sound instead of just white noise however.

Do not vary schedules by too much
This may be another one of those not so popular suggestions I have.  Try to not vary wake and sleep times by more than an hour any day of the week.  Now, if your teen is getting all the sleep they need, then some variation here and there will not harm them too much.  But if they are overtired during the week, and then they stay up even later on a weekend night (even if they sleep in!), they may end up being even more overtired and may ultimately have even more sleeping issues.  There are some reports that you can pay back sleep debt, so if they want to sleep in a little on the weekends to make up for lost sleep during the week, that may be okay.

Watch what they eat and drink
Make sure your teens are not drinking caffeinated beverages several hours before bed.  If they are drinking a lot of caffeine earlier in the day and still having trouble falling asleep, you may want to cut back their intake during the day as well.  Do not forget chocolate and some teas also contain caffeine, as well as those popular energy drinks.  If your teen gets hungry before bed, have them eat a sleep conducive snack.  Having food with complex carbohydrates and tryptophan is a great way to get ready for bed.  Cereal with low fat milk or yogurt with granola are great before bed snacks.


Do you have tips that you use to get your teens to bed?  Please share them below!


By Michelle Winters
SleepWell Sleep Solutions




One Thought on “Teenagers and Sleep – Yes, they do need it!

  1. Oh my goodness, 13 yr old and I had it out last night about her sleeping. The problem is that she needs to be up by 7 am to get to school on time. Although the high schools have the later time, middle school still does not. I have heard of the sleep cycle thing but when you need her up in the morning and congenial there is not much choice. We have tried to let her go to bed later and she wakes in time but she is difficult to live with – all of us walk on eggshells around her. And we know with the days shortening, it gets worse. Sigh. Interestingly enough, my husband and I were discussing how to talk to her about this problem this afternoon. I will try the trouble shooting, thanks.

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