• How is teen sleep needs different than for other age groups?
  • What are the sleep recommendations for teens?
  • How can I help my child develop healthy sleep habits?

How are the Sleep Needs of Teenagers Different From Kids of Other Ages?

A common complaint among parents and caregivers is that their teens are often tired and not getting enough sleep.  Usually, this is because their sleep patterns are causing problems in one or more areas of their life.  Teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep, but they often only get around 7.  More than half of them get even less. Poor sleep habits are so common with teens, parents, and caregivers may not know there is a problem or how to approach it. 

It is important to understand that teens differ in their sleep needs for two basic reasons.  First, at this age, their brains and bodies are developing, and sleep helps support that growth.  Second, their circadian rhythm is different from younger children.  This internal biological clock tells them to go to bed later and wake up later.  In addition,  factors like late-night studying, after-school sports and activities, early school start times, part-time jobs, and screen time often make it hard to get enough rest. 

Why it Matters

Getting enough sleep is important for everyone because it affects their physical and mental/emotional health.  In addition, it affects their thinking skills.  For teens, this is particularly important because of the rate their brains and bodies are changing. These are linked to their safety, ability to maintain positive relationships, and overall success in school.  

Below are some specific ways that lack of sleep can have negative effects on teens:

Physical Health

  • Accidents + Injuries from being too drowsy
  • Diabetes + Heart disease 
  • Poor decision-making about their health and high-risk behaviors

Mental/Emotional Health

  • Mood swings
  • Behavior in school and in their personal lives
  • Depression + anxiety

Learning

  • Cognitive ability (Ex: ability to learn new things)
  • Academics
  • Memory + attention
  • Creativity
  • Overall learning

Just as grades and academics are just one aspect of your child’s school experience, helping with homework is just one part of supporting their school success. In addition to academic support, there are many ways that you can contribute positively to your child’s educational experience. Complete this questionnaire to reflect on the ways you already support your child’s school success and identify areas you can focus on in the future. 

School Involvement / Engagement (on a scale from 1 to 5)

  • In general, how engaged or involved are you with your child’s school?
  • How aware are you of the opportunities for parents and caregivers to get involved at your child’s school (volunteer, leading after-school activities, Parent Teacher Organizations, parent leadership councils, etc.)?
  • How often do you communicate directly with your child’s teacher(s), counselor, or other school personnel about your child’s academic progress or social development?
  • How often do you attend “open house” or other events for parents at your child’s school?
  • How often do you attend regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences?

Awareness of School Resources and Policies

  • How aware are you of the extracurricular and after-school program opportunities (clubs, sports, affinity groups, community service, student leadership) available for students at your child’s school?
  • How aware are you of the tutoring and academic support opportunities for students at your child’s school?
  • How aware are you of the bullying and harassment policies at your child’s school?

Communication with Your Child (on a scale from 1 to 5)

  • How often do you discuss with your child how things are going and what they are learning at school?
  • If your child is struggling with an academic subject, how likely are they to let you know?
  • If your child is struggling with a personal/social issue at school, how likely are they to let you know?
  • How often do you talk with your child about their social life or relationships with friends or romantic partners?
  • How often do you discuss assignments, grades, or academic progress with your child?
  • How often do you access the school’s online portal (if available) to review your child’s assignments and progress?

Supporting School Success at Home

  • How often do you support your child with schoolwork/homework?
  • How aware are you of your child’s strengths and needs regarding their organization skills, study skills, time-management, problem-solving, and goal-setting skills?
  • Does your home have a comfortable, distraction-free space where your child can do schoolwork?
  • Do you set rules and limits on cell phone use, video games, and TV-watching to ensure your child completes school assignments first?
  • Do you encourage/support your child’s involvement in after-school or extracurricular activities?

Review and reflect on your responses to the questionnaire above. Which areas are strengths? Did you identify any areas you could focus on in the future to better support your child’s school success?

Teen Habits

Avoids caffeine drinks before bedtime

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Avoids heavy meals and snacks before bed

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Does activities that calm the mind and body before bed (ex. listening to soft music, reading, taking a bath/shower, stretching).

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Avoids activities that make them feel awake before bedtime (heavy exercise, video games, watching TV, using cell phone)

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Goes to bed at a reasonable time.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Avoids long naps during the day.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Gets 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Gets at least an hour of exercise each day (in addition to exercise at school).

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Bedroom Environment

Sleeps in a dark or dimly lit room.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Sleeps in a room that has a comfortable temperature (not too warm or cold).

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Falls asleep without loud music or television.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Has limits / follows rules about  TV, cell phone, or other electronic devices in their room.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Mindset Before Bed

Goes to bed with a clear mind, ready for the next day.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Falls Asleep Easily.

Rare 

Some

Often

Unsure

Review the statements that you checked “rare” and “sometimes.” Those are habits you may want to encourage your teen to incorporate if you think they are having sleep issues.  For the ones you checked “I am not sure,” this can also be a place to start a conversation and find out more about their habits.

How Can I Help My Child Develop Healthy Sleep Habits?

The first step parents can take to support their teen is to begin a conversation about their sleep habits.  Below are some ways you may be able to help your teen open up and see the consequences of their habits:

Start the conversation:

  • Start with observation.  “I notice that you have been really tired lately and that it has been hard for you to concentrate on your homework.  I also know that you are going to bed later and later.”  
  • Discuss the potential implications of poor behavior choices. For example, “I know that when I stay up later than I should watching TV, or doing work I feel very groggy the next day.  It makes it hard for me to enjoy what I am doing and to be productive.  What do you notice in yourself?
  • Empower them with information Point them towards websites that can give them information on sleep so they can read the facts and make some of their own decisions.
  • Help them think of ways they cope“So, when you feel like that (ex. tired, wired, etc), is there anything you can do to make yourself feel better?”
  • Encourage them to think through the pros and cons of their sleep patterns.
  • Help them feel that they can deal with life’s challengesRemind them of what they’re good at and what you like about them. This will give them confidence in other areas of their lives.

After you have talked to your child, you can support them in making a change.  Below are some ways you can work with and empower your teen to improve their sleep habits.

  • Work together to solve the problem:
    • rethink their schedule to identify ways of getting more sleep
    • create a pre-bedtime routine that helps them relax ( Ex. bath, calming music, reading something light/enjoyable, meditation)
    • creating a sleep-friendly environment in their bedroom (Ex. comfortable temperature, black out curtains, soft lighting, no electronics)
    • think of ways they  can get exercise/physical activity each day
  •  Support them in developing positive habits:
    • encourage them to spend time outside daily (Ex. walk or bike to school a couple of mornings a week, walk the family dog before school)
    • start the day in the sunshine to help with their circadian rhythm
    • maintain the same schedule all week (including weekends)
    • spend time outside daily
    • try meditating together or as a family
  •  Help them avoid poor habits:
    • technology/electronics before bed
    • long naps in the afternoon
    • heavy meals before bed
    • drinking caffeine or energy drinks later in the day

In most cases, talking to your teen and using some of the ideas above will help to create change.  However, there are some instances where a more serious issue may be preventing your child from getting enough sleep.  These include, but are not limited to obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and side effects of medication.  Teens with certain health conditions like asthma, depression, ADD and anxiety may be more likely to have a sleep condition.  

If you believe that your teen has something else going on, call their primary care doctor and schedule an appointment to go over your concerns.  You may also find resources through the school nurse or counselor.  

The following are pages from the Sleep Foundation that help explain the signs and symptoms of some more serious sleep disorders.

Working with your teen to decide on a schedule and routine that work will be the best way to develop and maintain good sleep habits. In addition, reaching out to the school nurse and counselor may provide you with additional resources.  Below are some informative articles about sleep, managing screen time and mindfulness/meditation.

Social Emotional Learning

Responsible Decision Making

How can I help my child . . .

  • recognize and handle peer pressure
  • make safe, healthy, responsible choices
Social Emotional Learning

Self-Management

How can I help my child . . .

  • get/stay organized and manage their time responsibly?
  • take initiative and develop independence?, (communicate problems and ask for what they need, stay organized, and set and reach goals)
  • be responsible and reliable?
  • better manage stress and strong emotions?
Social Emotional Learning

Social Awareness

How can I help my child . . . 

  • recognize others’ emotions and develop empathy?
  • be aware of their own impact on others?
  • be open to and accepting of differences?