Why teenagers need sleep

Your teenage child needs sleep to:

  • maintain a healthy body
  • keep her immune system working well
  • maintain good mental health
  • boost her energy levels, learning and concentration
  • store things in her long-term memory.

Lack of sleep can make it harder for your child to behave well, regulate emotions, pay attention and do well at school, and get along with others. Being tired all the time can even contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

About teenage sleep needs and patterns

Most teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Some need as little as 7 hours or as much as 11 hours.

It’s very common for children in the early teen years to start wanting to go to bed later at night and get up later in the morning. This is because they start to secrete melatonin later at night than they did in earlier childhood, which affects their circadian rhythms. Also, as their brains mature during puberty, children can stay awake for longer.

Helping teenagers get the sleep they need

Good daytime habits can help your teenage child get the sleep he needs, especially as he gets towards the later teen years. These habits can also help your child avoid or sort out any sleep problems that come up.

Waking, sleeping and napping routines
Encourage your child to:

  • keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other – this helps keep your child’s body clock regular
  • get out of bed when she wakes up in the morning, rather than staying in bed
  • spend the hour before lights out doing relaxing activities like reading a book, listening to music or having a warm shower or bath
  • keep daytime naps to no more 20 minutes and make sure the nap is in the early afternoon.

Sleep environment

  • Encourage your child to avoid the use of electronic devices in the hour before bed.
  • Ask your child to put his electronic devices in family rooms overnight.
  • Check your child’s sleep space. A quiet, dimly lit space is important for good sleep.

Good health and nutrition

  • Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full can make it harder to get to sleep.
  • Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. This will help her body produce melatonin at the right times in her sleep cycle.
  • Make sure your child has a healthy breakfast to kick-start his body clock. This helps the body feel ready for sleep at night.
  • Encourage your child to avoid caffeine – in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola – especially in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Encourage your child to do some physical activity during the day, but not too late at night.

Worries, fears and anxiety

  • If your child has worries that keep her awake at night, try talking about them together during the day.
  • Encourage your child to write down anxious thoughts each day well before bedtime. For each thought, your child could also add a possible solution.
  • Suggest your child tries some mindfulness exercises to calm his anxious or active mind before sleep.

You can be a healthy sleep role model for your child – for example, by winding down before bed, reducing screen-time before bed, relaxing and managing stress, and reducing your use of stimulants like caffeine before bedtime.

Signs of teenage sleep problems

A change in your child’s sleep behaviour – like going to bed later than you’d like – isn’t necessarily a sleep problem.

Signs that your teenage child has sleep problems might include difficulties with:

  • getting to sleep
  • staying asleep
  • getting out of bed in the morning.

If your child has sleep problems, she might also feel tired during the day, or have trouble remembering things or concentrating.

Your child might be able to solve some sleep problems by getting into the good sleep habits described above. But if persistent problems with sleep are affecting your child’s wellbeing, schoolwork, relationships or mental health, it might be time for him to see a GP, school counsellor or psychologist.

Working with your child on sleep problems

If your child has sleep problems, she needs to be involved in solving her own sleep issues.

You can get your child’s input by asking about what makes it harder for him to get to sleep, or what keeps him awake. Then he might be able to choose a daytime or evening habit that he thinks will help. For example, if he just doesn’t feel tired, he might focus on doing more physical activity each afternoon.

It’s a good idea to praise your child when you notice she’s trying to make changes to sleep patterns or trying out strategies you’ve discussed.

Lots of after-school activities like sport, music or part-time work can cut into your child’s sleep time or make it harder to unwind before bed. If this is the case with your child, you might need to talk about it. For example, he might be able to reschedule some activities so they don’t interfere with sleep.

Young people should avoid alcohol and illegal drug use completely. These substances have a bad impact on sleep, mental health and wellbeing. They can also harm young people’s developing brains.