Why teenagers need sleep
Teenagers need sleep to:
- maintain good physical health
- regulate appetite and stay at a healthy weight
- maintain energy levels
- maintain good mental health, build resilience and reduce stress
- learn, concentrate and remember things well
- maintain healthy social relationships.
Lack of sleep can make it harder for your child to behave well, regulate emotions, pay attention, 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 sleep 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 teenagers get the sleep they need, especially as they get towards the later teenage years. These habits can also help children avoid or sort out any sleep problems that come up.
Here are some habits you could encourage your child to try. Your child might need to try several things to work out what helps them the most.
Waking, sleeping and napping routines
- Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within 2 hours of each other. This helps to keep the body clock regular.
- Get out of bed when they wake up in the morning, rather than staying in bed.
- Spend the hour before lights out avoiding screens and doing relaxing activities like reading, listening to music or having a warm shower.
- Keep daytime naps to no more 20 minutes, and make sure the nap is in the early afternoon.
- Avoid the use of electronic devices in the hour before bed.
- Put electronic devices in family rooms overnight.
- Check their sleep space. A quiet, dimly lit space is important for good sleep.
Good health and nutrition
- Have a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make it harder to get to sleep.
- Get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. This will help the body produce melatonin at the right times in the sleep cycle.
- Have a healthy breakfast to kick-start their body clock. This helps the body feel ready for sleep at night.
- Avoid caffeine – in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola – especially in the late afternoon and evening.
- Do some physical activity during the day, but avoid intense exercise in the hour before bed.
Worries, fears and anxiety
- Talk about worries with you or another trusted person during the day, especially if worries keep them awake at night.
- Write down anxious or sad thoughts well before bedtime. For each thought, add a possible solution.
- Try some mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises or relaxation exercises to calm an 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 use before bed, relaxing and managing stress, and reducing your use of 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, they 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 to see a GP, school counsellor or psychologist.
Working with teenagers on sleep problems
If teenagers have sleep problems, they need to be involved in solving their own sleep issues.
You can get your child’s input by asking what makes it hard for them to get to sleep or what keeps them awake. Then your child might be able to choose a daytime or evening habit that they think will help. For example, if they don’t feel tired, they might focus on doing more physical activity each afternoon.
It’s a good idea to praise your child when you notice they’re trying to make changes to sleep patterns or trying out strategies you’ve discussed.
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, your child 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 effect on sleep, mental health and wellbeing. They can also harm young people’s developing brains.