Why Teens Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep

According to Johns Hopkins pediatrician Michael Crocetti, M.D., M.P.H., teens need 9 to 9½ hours of sleep per night. “Teenagers are going through a second developmental stage of cognitive maturation…Additional sleep supports their developing brain, as well as physical growth spurts.”

Yet most teens are getting much less than 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night. Why?

One problem is that adolescents experience a change in their circadian rhythm as they enter the teen years. Typically, there is a shift of about two hours, making it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11:00 pm. This coupled with early school start times, often before 7:30 am, result in sleep-deprived students.

Many teens find it difficult to fall asleep even at 11:00 pm. A barrage of overstimulation from a multitude of electronic devices can contribute to wakefulness at the bedtime hour, as can stress from the pressure to succeed in school and in extracurricular activities, as well as concerns about social relationships.

Not surprisingly, the consequences of sleep deprivation are many—decreased cognitive functioning, depression, an increased risk of obesity, and driving impairment. In light of these deleterious effects, it is important to try to help your teen get more sleep. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Try to help them maintain the same wake-up time on weekends as on weekdays. The notion of “catching up” on sleep on weekends is not only false, it disrupts healthy sleep patterns.
  • Promote exercise for your teens, particularly outdoor activities.
  • Limit their caffeine intake.
  • Establish the rule that there should be no screen time (computers, television, phones) within one hour before bed.
  • Advocate with your school system for later school start times for middle and high school students.

If your teen seems perpetually fatigued, you may want to talk to their doctor. There are a number of other factors that can contribute to sleeping difficulties.