Teenagers and Sleep: How Much is Actually Enough?

Everyone knows the image of the lazy teenager sleeping in until noon every day. But what if that image was not so far off from the truth? The years of teenhood are particularly formative for brain and body development. Getting enough sleep means managing your academics, family and social life, and personality and emotional development. Sleep does the behind-the-scenes work that allows teens to perform to the best of their ability. However, there are many studies that show that teenagers are actually getting far less sleep than they need.

The National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine attest that teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. The problem is, teens are constantly facing challenges to their sleep schedule. To better help yourteen get enough sleep, they need, and truly understand its importance, keep reading.

Why Do Teens Need To Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep is important for people of all ages. For teenagers, in particular, the mental, physical, social, and emotional development that comes with getting enough sleep is crucial.

Academics and Thinking

The right amount of sleep promotes better attention span, memory, and thought process. Sleep also facilitates creativity and expansive thinking, two things that can be applied to all aspects of a teenager’s day.

When teens suffer from a lack of sleep, they experience excessive drowsiness and a lack of attention. This harms academic performance and thinking skills.


A lack of sleep can cause irritability and exaggerated emotions in all of us. However, for teenagers who are developing their sense of responsibility, independence, and social skills, the consequences of a ‘bad mood’ can be severe.

Prolonged sleep may also negatively affect a teenager. Mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder) are often linked to poor sleep. Sleep deprivation in teens can increase the risk of suicide.

Physical Health

Sleep contributes to all functions of the brain. It helps empower the immune system, regulate hormones, and enable tissue recovery and muscle growth.

Most physical development happens during adolescence. Reachers have found that when teens do not get enough sleep, they are put at greater risk for diabetes and long-term cardiovascular problems.

Decision Making

The frontal lobe, where our critical thinking and impulse control happens, can be affected by a lack of sleep. Many studies have found that teens are actually more likely to engage in risky behaviors (texting while driving, not wearing a seatbelt, or drunk driving) when they do not get enough sleep.

Drug and alcohol use is also linked to a lack of sleep in teens.

Do Teenagers Get Enough Sleep?

Many teenagers across the country are not receiving the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night. In fact, according to a 2006 Sleep in America survey (the National Sleep Foundation), 45% of adolescents report getting less than eight hours of sleep each night.

This trend seems to be continuing. Surveys from 2007-2013 found that almost 69% of high school students get seven hours of sleep or less each night. Insomnia is a growing problem.

Insufficient sleep has been found to be higher in women than men. People later in their teen years report less sleep than people younger. Teens who identify as Asian, Black, or multiracial have the highest rates of insufficient sleep.

The Importance Of Power Naps

Do you know those people who seem to not make it through the day without a nap? They might be onto something. When we take smaller naps throughout the day, it can actually help us catch up on the sleep we miss at night.

The positive effects of a power nap are particularly strong in childhood as the brain develops. When children sleep during the day, they are more likely to remember everything they have learned. This could be true for adults as well.

Daytime naps improve vocabulary and abstract learning. This proves that sleep is very connected to memory and learning.

Why Is It Difficult For Teens To Get The Sleep They Need?

There are many reasons why teenagers are receiving insufficient sleep. Let’s get into some specifics.

School Start Times and Delayed Sleep

During the teenage years, there is a tendency to stay up later and sleep longer in the morning. research shows that this has to do with their circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles.

Teens have a high sleep drive that builds slowly, so they do not feel tired until later in the day. Their bodies also wait longer to start producing melatonin. If they could sleep on their own schedules, most teens would receive eight or more hours of sleep. School start times, however, disrupt the cycle. Many teens are unable to get the right amount of sleep by the time they are tired enough to fall asleep and need to wake up.

This leads to ‘catching up on sleep’ on the weekends and leads to greater inconsistency.


Teens have school assignments, household chores, social lives, and extracurricular events that take up most of their time and attention. With so much to fit into every day, it hardly leaves enough time for sleep. They often stay up late to finish homework or during the weekend to see friends and family. There is intense pressure to maintain all of your commitments and this stress greatly affects sleep.

Screen Time

Smartphones, laptops, and televisions all inhibit your ability to get the right amount of sleep. Teens who put their phones down an hour before bed have a much easier time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Another poll from Sleep in America (2014), found that 89% of teens keep at least one device in their bedrooms at night. Notifications are disruptive and keep them up way later than they should.

Sleep and Mental Health Disorders

Some teens will have trouble sleeping due to underlying sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea causes repeated pauses in breathing while you sleep.This can severely impact the quality of sleep you get.

Restless Leg Syndrome is another common sleep disorder. This is a strong urge to move limps when laying down.

Anxiety and depression can make the quality of sleep a teenager gets more difficult. Insufficient sleep can lead to these conditions as well.

Effects Of Sleep Deprivation and Tips For Parents

Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to:

  • Difficulty concentrating,
  • ‘Spacing out’ in class,
  • Shorter attention spans,
  • Lack of enthusiasm,
  • Poor decision making,
  • Moodiness or aggression,
  • Depression,
  • Impaired memory,
  • Clumsiness,
  • Reduced sports participation,
  • Truancy.

For parents, a good place to start is by asking your teenager about sleep. Check-in on how many hours they seem to be getting. When you are aware of the problem, you are better able to help.

Parents can also encourage their children to see a doctor to improve their sleep hygiene habits. Advocating for later school start times is another idea. Many schools have seen much better performance results from starting the day later.

Sleep Hygiene Tips For Teens

Teenagers who have trouble sleeping should be talking to their doctor to discuss how they can improve their sleep. A pediatrician is about to help identify underlying causes and figure out the right course of treatment.

Depending on what the causes are, medication may be a solution. However, it is often not necessary. Here are some tips to create healthier sleeping habits:

  • Creating a bedtime routine for yourself.
  • Avoid energy drinks and caffeine, especially in the evening.
  • Put your phone away an hour before and put it on do not disturb.
  • Get a supportive mattress and pillows.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Eight hours of sleep should be in your daily schedule (yes, on weekends too).

Sleep hygiene is very important and may be included in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia. If you are looking for a CBT-I specialist, check out Mental Treat’s platform. We have licensed specialists ready to help you get your sleep back on track.

People of all ages should also be doing what they can to take care of their sleep. Check out our other sleep articles on the blog for more information.


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Sean McCormick

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