The Amount of Sleep a Teenager Needs

A teenage girl sleeping asleep on the couch

Compassionate Eye Foundation / Monashee Frantz / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Sleep is important at every stage of life, but it is especially crucial during the teenage years. During sleep, the body releases hormones that fuel teenage growth, brain circuitry, and sexual maturation. 

Between 14 and 17, teens should get between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night. However, research shows only 15% of teens get at least 8.5 hours of sleep most school nights, and most average just 7.4 hours per night. This is far short of the desired quota for healthy teens.

It can be difficult to monitor how much sleep your teen is getting and even harder to enforce good sleep habits in the teenage years. But you can help your child recognize when they aren't getting enough sleep, how much better they feel when they do get adequate rest and identify steps they can take to develop healthy sleep habits.

Challenges

Sleep during the teenage years can be problematic for a number of reasons. Bedtimes tend to get pushed later due to more activities and homework and schools tend to start earlier in later grades making for earlier wake times.

This change in sleep patterns also has biological roots. During adolescence, sleep patterns shift toward delayed sleep and wake times due to changes in circadian rhythms that delay the release of melatonin in the brain, making it difficult for most teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

In addition to biology, researchers have identified five other factors that contribute to a sleep deficit in teens:

  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Excessive Homework Load
  • Evening Use of Electronic Media
  • Caffeine Intake
  • Early School Start Times 

This can set up a perfect storm of teens going to bed later but needing to get up earlier on weekdays at the time in their lives that they need an additional couple of hours of sleep. They may oversleep on the weekends to make up for a sleep deficit.

Sleep Deprivation

In the long run, this sleep deficit from staying up late and waking up early during the week can lead to sleep deprivation, which can be the cause of extreme moodiness, poor performance in school, and depression. Teens also have a higher risk of having car accidents because of falling asleep behind the wheel.

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping an eye out for signs of sleep deprivation:

  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Irritability in the afternoon
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Oversleeping on the weekend
  • Having difficulty remembering or concentrating
  • Waking up often and having trouble going back to sleep

Making a Change

Teens can often be resistant to taking help from their parents, particularly if they do not recognize there is a problem. If your teenager isn't getting adequate rest or is showing signs of sleep deprivation, it can help to gently guide them to recognize the importance of sleep so they will be more willing to develop healthy sleep habits.

One strategy is to talk up the benefits of regularly getting good sleep and the consequences of not getting enough. Some parents find it is easier to talk about things in earshot of their teen instead of talking to them directly.

It can also be helpful to discuss the topic as it relates to yourself and not the child. For example, "I feel so much better today because I slept enough last night," or "I stayed up too late working on a project last night and I'm having a hard time concentrating today."

Benefits of Good Sleep
  • More energy and stamina

  • Improved learning and problem solving

  • Reduced anxiety and improved moods

  • Better complexion

Negatives of Poor Sleep
  • Tired and lack of energy

  • Difficulty listening and concentrating 

  • Moody, impatient, and aggressive

  • More prone to acne

Tips For Better Sleep

If your teen is ready to work on better sleep habits, you can start by helping them to figure out how much sleep they need. Then work backward from the time they need to wake up in the morning, to determine what time they should be asleep by to get a full eight to 10 hours of sleep.

Once your teenager sets the sleep schedule that will enable them to be well-rested, you can help them get the sleep they need each night. Encourage your teen to:

  • Keep consistent bedtimes, even on weekends.
  • Set up a restful sleep environment that is cool, comfortable, and dark.
  • Develop pre-sleep rituals, such as a hot bath or quiet activity before bed
  • Spend the hour before bedtime doing a relaxing, non-screen activity — the light emitted from the screens can disrupt melatonin production while the onscreen activities can be psychologically stimulating, making it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Keep a notebook by the bed to jot down worries or things to do that may keep them awake. This can minimize stress and anxiety that hinder sleep.
  • Take naps to catch up on lost sleep, as long as they are not too long or too close to bedtime.
  • Cut down on caffeine consumption, especially later in the day, and avoid eating heavy meals late at night.
  • Get daily exercise, but not within two hours before bedtime.
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