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  • How is sleep during adolescence different from other age groups?
  • What are the sleep recommendations for middle schoolers?
  • How can I help my child develop healthy sleep habits ?

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

Because middle schoolers are shifting from childhood into puberty, their sleep patterns will begin to change.  While they may have been sleepy around 8:00pm or 9:00pm  in elementary school, they might not start getting drowsy until later as they move into their teenage years.   This is primarily because their circadian rhythm, or biological clock, is shifting and making it harder for them to go to bed early.  The demands of school, participation sports, and late night screen time are other factors that contribute to late bedtimes. 

Children at this age usually  need between 8-10 hours of sleep, but they often only get around 7.  More than half of them get even less because they are going to bed later but are still required to wake up early for school. Poor sleep habits are so common with middle schoolers, parents and caregivers may not know there is a problem or how to approach it.

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 middle schoolers 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 tweens:

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


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

Check In:

Use this checklist to think about  your child’s behavior and learn more about how you can help them develop healthy sleep habits.

My middle schooler . . .Never or rarely

(1-2 X/ week)

(3 or more times a week)

I am not sure
avoids caffeine drinks before bedtime    
avoids heavy meals and snacks before bed    
does activities that calm the mind and body before bed (ex. listening to soft music, reading, taking a bath/shower, stretching).    
avoids activities that make them feel awake before bedtime (heavy exercise, video games, watching TV, using cell phone)    
goes to bed at a reasonable time    
avoids long naps during the day    
gets 8-10 hours of sleep each night    
gets at least an hour of exercise each day (in addition to exercise at school)    
Bedroom Environment    
sleeps in a dark or dimly lit room    
sleeps in a room that has a comfortable temperature (not too warm or cold)    
falls asleep without loud music or television    
has limits / follows rules about  TV, cell phone, or other electronic devices in their room    
Mindset before Bed    
goes to bed with a clear mind, ready for the next day    
falls asleep easily     

Review the statements that you checked “never/rarely” 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.

Connect & Communicate:

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

Start the conversation:

  • Start with an 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 middle schooler to improve their sleep habits.

1. 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

2. Support them in developing positive habits:

  • encourage them to spend time outside daily (Ex. walk or bike to school a couple mornings a week, walk the family dog before school)
  • start the day in 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

 3.  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

One of the best ways to help your tween develop these habits is to model them.  As we know, children often learn from our own behaviors more than they do from our words.  Take a moment to review the habits above and see where you may want to make some improvements of your own.

Contact & Collaborate:

In most cases, talking to your child 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.  Children with certain health conditions like asthma, depression, ADD and anxiety may be more likely to have a sleep condition.  

If you believe that your middle schooler 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.

Continue Learning:

Working with your child 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.

Sleep:  Websites that help make the connection between sleep and happiness and also a podcast on how to make sleep a priority.


Why Sleep Matters (Messy Bun Podcast)

Managing Screen Time:  Articles that guide adults on how to help their kids manage their screen time.

Mindfulness and Sleep:  An article about the connection between mindfulness and getting good sleep.

Connecting with your Teen through Meditation:  Tips on how to model and use meditation and mindfulness to connect with your teenager.

Apps that Can Support Sleep

Calm App:  An app that supports sleep through calming music and meditation.

Headspace App:  An app that helps users wake up in the right frame of mind to start the day.

Freedom App:  An app that can be used on a phone or computer that blocks distracting websites and apps.  This can help teens stay off their phones late at night.

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