Adolescence is a developmental period when teens mentally and physically transition into adulthood. For many teens, this transition is also marked by increasing independence as well as new roles and obligations.
Sleep plays a role in healthy development during adolescence. Unfortunately, most teens aren’t getting enough sleep. Insufficient sleep in teens can cause numerous problems. Without enough sleep, a teen’s risk of health issues and behavioral problems increases. Insufficient sleep can also contribute to reduced performance in school.
Sleep loss in teens is such an important topic that the United States government is aiming to increase how much sleep teens get each night. Learn more about the importance of sleep for teens and the reasons why adolescents might not be getting enough.
The Importance of Sleep for Teens
Sleep is important for teens as they grow and develop into adults. Getting the right amount of sleep helps teens process information, make healthy decisions, and decreases their risk of health issues, accidents, and injuries.
Sleep and Health
Not getting enough sleep puts teens at a heightened risk of developing a number of physical, mental, and emotional effects such as:
- Feeling depressed, anxious, or in a bad mood
- Not having enough energy for activities they enjoy
- Lowered immunity and more frequent illness
- Unintentional weight gain
- Lowered self-esteem
- Hyperactivity, aggression, or disruptive behavior
Regularly missing out on sleep can also increase a teen’s risk of numerous chronic health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
Sleep and School Performance
Sleep is crucial for brain functioning and keeping the mind sharp. Teens need adequate sleep for many of the mental processes needed for academic success, like focus, concentration, problem-solving, and creativity.
Chronic sleep loss is linked to poor academic performance for teens from middle school through high school. Without enough rest, students may have trouble paying attention, focusing on tasks, and retaining new information. Teens experiencing sleep loss are more prone to making mistakes and take more time to finish tasks.
Sleep and Teen Driving
Learning to drive and getting a license is a milestone for many teens. But the teenage years are also the time when people are at the highest risk of driving while sleepy. Experts believe that teens are at a heightened risk of drowsy driving because they generally lack driving experience and may not fully realize the danger of driving while tired.
When teens drive despite being tired, they increase the chances that they’ll be involved in a car accident. Car accidents are a leading cause of injury and death in teens. For this reason, experts recommend that teens should take steps to recognize the signs of drowsy driving and adults should help to ensure that their teens are not driving while sleep-deprived.
Sleep and Teen Behavior
As teens gain independence and begin to forge their own identity, they are regularly faced with new and complex challenges. As the teenage brain develops, it’s normal for teens to begin to question authority, take more risks, and develop their decision making skills.
This process can be stressful for teens, especially when they aren’t getting the amount of sleep needed by their mind and body. Lack of sleep can make it even harder for teens to handle change. It can also make it harder for teens to develop healthy relationships and control their mood and behavior.
Insufficient sleep can also interfere with a teen’s decision-making and missing out on sleep increases the chances that teens will engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and drug use.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Teens Need?
The amount of sleep a teen needs depends on a few different factors, like their age, health, and daily activity level. In general, experts recommend that teens aim for an appropriate amount of sleep for their age group.
|Age Group||Age Range||Recommended Hours of Sleep|
|School-age||6-13 years old||9-11 hours|
|Teen||14-17 years old||8-10 hours|
|Young adult||18-25 years old||7-9 hours|
Are Teens Getting Enough Sleep?
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is common in teens and most adolescents are not getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age group. In fact, nearly 58% of middle schoolers and 73% of high schoolers regularly miss sleep during the school week.
Why Aren’t Teens Getting Enough Sleep?
Many changes occur during adolescence that can affect a teen’s sleep habits. To help explain why sleep loss is so common during this age, experts point to the effects of puberty, early school times, as well as the impacts of a teen’s health, environment, and life experiences.
Later Sleep Times
Teens have a tendency to be night owls and stay up late, in part due to natural shifts in their circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are innate biological cycles that affect a wide variety of processes in the body, including when hormones are released and whether a person feels alert or sleepy.
Around puberty, a teen’s circadian rhythms become delayed, which means that it’s normal for teens to sleep longer in the morning and not feel tired until later in the night. A teen’s tendency to stay up late usually peaks around age 20, before their circadian rhythms begin to slowly shift in the opposite direction.
Teens also experience changes related to their sleep drive, which describes the pressure to sleep that builds the longer a person stays awake. Around puberty, teens become less sensitive to their sleep drive, making it easier to ignore the body’s need for sleep.
Not all changes in teens’ sleep times are related to biology. Other factors like work or school schedules, social demands, household obligations, and homework can affect the amount of sleep teens get each night. Late night social media habits and smartphone use can also cause some teens to delay their sleep.
Getting Up Early for School
The need to get up early for school is a significant reason why teens aren’t getting enough sleep. When combined with their tendency to fall asleep later in the evening, getting up early can make it difficult for teens to get an adequate amount of sleep.
Most middle and high schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m., which conflicts with the recommendations of experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics. These experts recommend that schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to help students get the sleep they need to succeed.
Life Experiences and Stress
A teen’s living and sleeping environments can also affect their ability to get sufficient and high-quality sleep. Sharing bedrooms with siblings or other family members, parental stress, and living in a loud or unsafe environment can also play a role in sleep problems during adolescence.
Experiencing racial and ethnic inequality is a risk factor for poor sleep health in teens. And teens from Black and Hispanic racial and ethnic minority groups have a higher risk of sleep loss and poor quality sleep compared to their peers.
Research has also identified that children from low-income families experience incidences of shorter sleep duration, lower quality sleep, and higher rates of sleep disorders.
Teens that are exposed to stressful situations early in life–like conflict within the family, domestic violence, or a parent with a mental health condition–may also develop sleep problems.
Medical and Mental Health Conditions
Conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, digestive disorders, and breathing problems have the potential to affect a teen’s sleep. Additionally, young people with autism, intellectual disabilities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a high risk of experiencing sleep problems.
Certain sleep disorders are common in childhood and adolescence. When left untreated, sleep disorders like insomnia can impair teens’ sleep, making it difficult for them to fall and stay asleep at night. Likewise, some medications can result in sleep problems.
How to Help Teens Get the Sleep They Need
There are a lot of steps teens can take to ensure they are getting enough sleep. Parents and guardians can also take an active role by educating teens, encouraging better sleep habits, and helping teens set a sleep schedule. Adults should improve their own sleep habits to help model healthy sleep habits to their teens.
- Keep a consistent routine: Teens should try to go to bed at the same time on weekdays and weekends. They should also try to wake up at the same time each morning, even on days when school attendance isn’t required. Sleeping in for more than 2 hours on weekends may suggest insufficient sleep during the week.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages: Teens should avoid drinking coffee, energy drinks, soda, and other beverages with caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening. Teens who drink a lot of caffeine are more likely to experience shortened sleep, more nighttime awakenings, and sleepiness the next day.
- Get homework help: Staying up late to study or complete homework can cause some teens to sacrifice their sleep. Reaching out to guidance counselors, teachers, and adult figures on ways to manage homework workload may help provide teen’s with needed support.
- Stay active: Daily exercise is important and supports deeper sleep. But working out too close to bedtime can interfere with falling asleep. Teens should avoid intense exercise and afterschool sports two to three hours before their planned bedtime.
- Limit screen time: It’s recommended to keep phones and other electronic devices out of the bedroom to minimize distractions and avoid evening exposure to light. This means that teens shouldn’t text, surf the web, watch television, or use other screens about an hour before bedtime.
- Get outdoors: Light exposure plays an important role in sleep and alertness. Spending time in natural sunlight can help with waking up and feeling more alert. However, excessive light exposure in the evening is associated with reduced sleep in teens. So teens should try to unwind with low lighting before bed.
- Talk to a safe adult: Teens should inform a trusted adult about any stressful or unsafe living conditions that are interfering with their ability to get enough sleep each night. A nurse, doctor, social worker, school guidance counselor, or another adult can help provide support.
To support the sleep health of teens in general, adolescents, parents, and caregivers can also get involved by contacting their local school officials and advocating for a later school start time.
Teens and their caregivers should talk to a health professional about any persistent sleep issues. Sometimes, sleep problems may be due to an underlying health condition or a sleep disorder. A doctor can assess a teen’s sleep problems and recommend the right treatment option.