Your Teen’s Biggest Sleep Problems and How to Deal

Tired teen? Here’s how to troubleshoot your teen’s sleep issues.

Loading the player...

Teens have a lot going on. Exhibit A: body changes, love interests, loads of schoolwork, hobbies … and all. That. Texting. So much so, that sleep is often an afterthought. Teens may not understand the importance of sleep, but you sure do. If not, here’s your reminder: Sound sleep is vital to you and your family’s health and well-being.

“Parents across the board are worried that their kids don’t sleep enough. They see their teens tired, they see their teens having trouble waking up in the morning, [and] they’re getting reports that their teens are falling asleep in school,” says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

How Much Sleep Do Teens and Adolescents Need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function at their best, but every teen is different. “Not every adolescent needs the same amount of sleep,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor. Some may do great on 8 hours; others need much more than that. “If you’re seeing tiredness, irritability, [and] mood changes, they may need more like 10 hours,” says Dr. Parikh.

Most teens, however, are getting less than the recommended amount. One study found that only 15% of teenagers reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.


How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Teen’s Health

“Lack of sleep in teens can manifest in a lot of different ways,” says Dr. Patel. Sleep deprivation in teens can increase their risk of developing cognitive issues, mental health issues, substance abuse, and certain chronic health issues, like obesity, says Dr. Patel.


Why Teens Have Trouble Sleeping 

Many factors, like puberty, school and social activities, and living in a world of digital devices, can affect teens’ and adolescents’ sleep patterns:

  • Puberty. “When a teenager goes through puberty, they’re having a lot of changes to their body. And one of those changes is their circadian rhythm, which [is] their internal clock, when they’re tired to go to bed, is actually being shifted two hours later,” says Dr. Parikh. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is natural for teens to not be able to fall asleep before 11 pm.

  • Busy schedules. “There’s two things happening at once. You have puberty happening, but then you actually have, I almost want to say, life happening. You’re getting home from school later, you have homework, you have social activities,” says Dr. Patel.

  • Irregular sleep patterns. Teens tend to stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can also affect their internal clock. “I know we talk a lot about, ‘Oh, I’ll make it up later and sleep in on the weekends,’ but that’s not great for your body,” says Dr. Parikh. Make sure your teen gets to bed within an hour of the same time every night as much as possible. “It really helps to give you the good quality sleep that you need,” says Dr. Parikh.

  • Being hooked on devices. It’s hard for teenagers to wind down these days, says pediatrician Dyan Hes, MD, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. “Getting on [a] phone or getting on [a] device, it just worsens their not falling asleep because they’re stimulated by their phone or their game,” she says.


How To Help Your Teen Get Better Sleep

“Teens and adolescents can really focus on sleep as a health tool, something that their bodies need, just as much as exercise, just as much as nutrition. Once you kind of reframe their mentality and put sleep up on that pedestal that it deserves to be on, that’s step one,” says Dr. Patel.

If your kid is having trouble sleeping, try having them:

  • Step away from tech devices at least one hour before bedtime
  • Read a book before bed to help them wind down
  • Take a hot shower
  • Dim the lights an hour before bed to create a calming environment
  • Get physical exercise every day

“When I talk to teens about the importance of sleep, I try to think of something to bond with them, that would be improved if they got more rest. It doesn’t matter if they’re in band, they’re a writer, they’re a cheerleader, [or] they’re in speech and debate. Getting more sleep will always give them a better performance,” says Dr. Patel.