Top Tips to Help Teens Meet Their Changing Sleep Needs

Although it may seem like it, your teens aren’t staying up half the night and sleeping all day just to drive you crazy. One of the many changes teens’ bodies go through during puberty is a shift in circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. As Mother Nature hits the snooze bar on your teens’ biological sleep clock, the natural urge to fall asleep shifts back several hours. They are no longer ready for sleep at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

Bedtime is now closer to yours at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Combine this shift with teens’ increasing need for sleep — minimally eight hours and optimally nine hours for some — and it may feel like your teens are always in bed, but always tired.

Research shows that only one in five teens actually get the sleep they need on a regular basis. In fact, almost 70 percent of teenagers sleep less than eight hours on school nights. Just missing an hour a night can quickly add up to sleep deprivation, which affects reaction time, decision making, memory and coordination.

Go With the Flow -- But Make a Plan

Resisting or ignoring the natural changes in your teens’ sleep needs without a plan to help them get enough sleep, despite this biological change, is sure to result in frustrated (and tired) parents and teens. It may seem like a good idea to let your teens sleep in on the weekends to catch up. But that approach may have the opposite effect, as it can keep them from falling asleep at the right time on weeknights and give them a dose of jet lag every weekend.

Quality sleep isn’t a luxury. It is a basic human need, an active state that is important for renewing our mental and physical health. With all the stresses and time constraints put on today’s teens — from school, extracurricular activities, and jobs, to friends and family — it is easy for sleep to suffer.

As a parent, it is important that you teach your teens the importance of a good night’s sleep and do your part to ensure that they are doing their best to get one.

Healthy Teen Sleep Tips for Parents

  • Encourage teens to wake up and go to bed at about the same time every day of the week.
  • Avoid weekend sleep-ins. Don’t vary the weekend wake times more than two hours later than the weekday wake times. Weekend morning sleep-ins makes it harder to fall asleep on weekend nights, leaving the teenager short on sleep for Monday morning classes.
  • Avoid letting teens have prolonged or late day naps.These make it harder to fall asleep at night and contribute to short sleep if school start times are early. If a nap is needed, limit daytime sleep to a 30- to 45-minute power nap.
  • Insist teens turn off their cell phones and tablets before bed. Teens who send or receive texts throughout the night are not getting the quality sleep they need.
  • Teach your teens to avoid stimulating television, music, video games or phone conversations right before trying to settle down to sleep.
  • Discourage vigorous physical activity in the two hours before bedtime. Try to make the hour before bedtime a quiet, wind-down period.
  • Have your teens avoid caffeine for at least several hours before bed, including caffeinated sodas, coffee and tea.
  • Make the bed a sleep-only zone. Teens should do homework at a desk or table.
  • Teens should play games, watch television and use the computer outside the bedroom.
  • Make sure teens’ sleep environment is comfortable. A cool, dark, quiet room is best.
  • Monitor your teens’ activities and commitments, and help them make choices that allow them enough time to get the proper rest.

Carol L. Rosen, MD, is Medical Director, Pediatric Sleep Services in the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.


UH Rainbow pediatric practices are offering extended office hours in May to accommodate and prioritize teen well visits as part of Teen Health Month. Call for an appointment today.

Rainbow Babies & Children's Pediatric Sleep Center

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