Zzzz's for Your Teens

Mother talking stories to her kids in bed at home

Essential sleep advice for today’s teens

Learn how to help teens ditch the barriers to a good night’s rest and catch more zzzz’s.

Fact 1: Teens need sleep!

Their sleep habits may have been once considered unimportant, but we now know they’re a serious issue — and the problem may be getting worse. Teens need a consistent eight to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Yet research shows more than 3 in 4 high school students don’t get that on a typical school night. The not so good news?

Poor sleep contributes to physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Poorer memory, attention and reaction time
  • Health concerns, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Moodiness, higher likelihood of self-harm and suicidal thoughts
  • Increased risk-taking, such as smoking cigarettes or marijuana; drinking alcohol; being sexually active; and getting in fights

The lingering COVID-19 pandemic isn’t helping, either. Quarantining and at-home learning has increased screen time, reduced physical activity, and altered daily routines including sleep and wake schedules. These changes hurt overall well-being.

Fact 2: Teens don’t resist bedtime to be difficult.

One important reason teens stay up later is biological. Their body clocks go through a shift after puberty. So they’re more likely to feel tired as much as two hours later at night and don’t feel awake until later in the morning.

Other factors contribute to teens’ irregular sleep patterns, including:

  • After-school activities including jobs, athletics and homework
  • Active social lives and peer pressure from friends to stay up
  • School start times

Fact 3: Teens who lack sleep during the week shouldn’t try to cram in extra zzzz’s on the weekend.

This sets them up for social jet lag, making it more difficult to return to a regular bedtime during the week. Instead they should aim for a consistent sleep-wake schedule throughout the week.

Other healthy lifestyle changes that promote sleep include:

  • Physical activity during the day
  • Time to relax before bed
  • A realistic bedtime allowing for at least eight hours of sleep
  • No caffeine (including soda and chocolate) in the afternoons
  • Meals around the same time daily (and not eating too close to bedtime)

Fact 4: Technology does interfere with sleep – not just ours, but our kids too.

Teens may not like this one, but they need to know there’s increasing evidence that electronics can be detrimental to healthy sleep patterns.

Electronic devices, such as smartphones, computers, tablets, game consoles and TVs, are powerful distractions. When these are in the bedroom, the urge to use them may be too great to resist.

Such devices also emit short-wavelength blue light. This light fools the body into thinking it’s daytime. As a result, the body creates less melatonin, interfering with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Lifestyle changes can help, including:

  • Avoiding electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Setting devices to silent and keeping them in another room
  • Dimming indoor lights at night
  • Taking in some sunlight every morning upon waking

Fact 5: Teens need their sleep but if they’re falling asleep anywhere, at any time it could signal a serious situation.

Chronic difficulty falling asleep, snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness should be discussed with a health care professional to rule out medical problems.

The quality of teen sleep matters just as much as quantity. This means teens need to sleep consistently at appropriate times. Teens who take naps should keep them brief — even as short as 10 to 20 minutes — so they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.

Fact 6: Teen sleep affects everyone.

You probably live near one, or two, or three, right? And you probably share the road with them. Research shows that high school students who sleep less than seven hours on school nights are more likely to drink and drive and to text while driving. Young drivers are also at high risk for causing accidents because of drowsy driving, which affects alertness, reaction time and decision-making abilities.