How much sleep does a teenager need?
While there are individual differences, it is recommended that on average, adolescents need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night. One study found that 2/3 of high school students get less than seven hours of sleep and another found that 33 percent of teens reported falling asleep in school (Calamaro et al., 2009; Eaton et al., 2010). Overall, the data suggests most adolescents are not receiving the amount of sleep they need.
Why is getting sufficient sleep a challenge in adolescence?
A number of elements make getting sufficient sleep challenging in adolescence. There are physiological changes that occur during this period of development that impact sleep, including a two hour delay in sleep onset after puberty and slower accumulation of their sleep drive. These physiological factors makes it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. Paired with the fact many middle and high schools have an early start time can make it difficult to obtain sufficient sleep. On top of all of this, teens often have other commitments that may lead require them to stay up later or get up earlier, such as homework, extracurricular commitments, and part-time jobs.
Additionally, parents are less likely to monitor and be aware of sleep problems in school-age children and teenagers than in younger children. In fact, approximately 70% of parents polled by The National Sleep Foundation reported they believe their teen is obtaining sufficient sleep, although as we’ve discussed, the data suggests otherwise.
You might be thinking, “My child sleeps in on the weekends, so they make up the difference, right?”
Over time, nights of missed sleep can build into a “sleep debt.” While many youth try to make up their “sleep debt” by oversleeping on the weekends, data suggest this oversleep falls short of hitting the normal daily sleep recommendation. The result is many adolescents experience chronic sleep loss and circadian misalignment have very real consequences on their physical and mental health, academic performance, mood, behavior, and safety (think drowsy driving).
Below are some signs your teen may be experiencing insufficient sleep:
- Trouble waking up most mornings
- Acts irritable in the early afternoon
- Falls asleep easily during the day
- Has a sudden drop in grades
- Sleeps for very long periods on the weekends or long naps after school
- More than two hours difference between sleep schedule on weekdays vs. weekends
- Sleep onset lasts more than 30 minutes
If you believe your teenager is not obtaining the recommended amount of sleep, you can start by establishing a regular sleep schedule, including the weekends. Other helpful interventions include avoiding caffeine, increasing light exposure in the morning, not allowing your child to do any activities in bed (no homework, TV, reading, and so on), and limiting their use of electronics prior to bedtime.