Adolescents Sleep Facts

It can be hard to get a teenager to sleep. There are drastic physical and social changes going on in their life, and with increased responsibilities, obligations and independence, the world is becoming a more exciting place for them. Frustratingly, despite their need for sleep, many adolescents resist it, both from boredom, fear of missing out, and simply because they have so many distractions and things to focus on in their young, vibrant lives. But it’s not just friends, games and study keeping them up, but also their hormones, transforming sleep phases and rapidly changing bodies.

Circadian Rhythms

We all have circadian rhythms which are dictated by zeitgebers, external stimuli, like light, feeding and socialising, and these factors dictate when we sleep, when we wake, when we feel tired and when we feel energised. But during adolescence, there is a delay in the release of melatonin (a sleep hormone that makes us sleepy), making adolescents sleepier later in the evening.

So.. what do teenagers do when they’re not sleepy, but are bored? They entertain themselves, and in this digital age, that usually looks like television, computer games, socializing via the endless stream of social media applications on their smartphones, or, if they’re particularly diligent, studying or reading.

How much sleep is enough sleep?

It is also important to note that sleep is highly individualized. We all have chronotypes or sleeping patterns, which dictate whether we are early birds or night owls, and everyone needs different levels and length of sleep. However, sleep research suggests that teenagers generally need between eight and ten hours a night for them to feel energized and fresh in the morning, and troublingly, studies suggest our kids are not getting anywhere near that much, averaging between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night.

Why is sleep important?

Funnily enough, we think we know what sleep does, however there is also disagreement about why it is important. Some sleep scientists believe sleep is important for energy conservation, something evolved from our ancestors, while others believe sleep is a period of restoration which helps us recover from our energy expenditure during the day. No matter what theory you believe in, one thing all scientists agree on is that sleep deprivation causes serious negative health consequences including obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart problems, depression and more.

Of course, teenafers are built strong and resliilent, however sleep is an essential part of their physical, mental and cognitive development, and leads to better academic performance, increased mood (something the parents will DEFINITELY want to improve in their youngsters) and overall well being.

There are a number of environmental factors which influence sleep behavior in adolescents:

Smartphones, televisions, games and exposure to blue light.

More and more evidence is showing that exposure to blue light, which is emitted from the Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) in our phones, tablets, computers and televisions, causes suppression of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleepiness, as well as poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and pre-sleep hyper-arousal.

There are a number of reasons for this including how close we hold our phones to our faces, the stimulating content on our phones and how much time we generally spend on our phones. Ensuring that we take time off our phones before bed and limit our exposure to blue light is a surefire way to improve our sleep.


What we eat, and what we don’t eat seriously impact our health, digestion, and ultimately, our sleep. By consuming caffeine and sugar too close to our bedtime, we can fire up our adrenal systems, and have too much energy to induce natural sleep latency (going to sleep). While tolerance is highly individualized, some people also struggle to sleep well after big meals, as food equals fuel and fuel makes us want to go, go, go!

Social pressure

Adolescents have a lot going on, from jobs, extracurricular activities, sports, homework, not to mention all of the social pressure, angst and worry that comes with being a teenager trying to figure it all out. This can cause

It is not surprising that sleep is at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to teenagers’ priorities. But it really does need to be prioritised, as bad habits formed in childhood and adolescence can carry over into adulthood, making life harder than it needs to be.

Why is sleep important?

Consistent sleep patterns

Studies show again and again that consistent bedtimes are good for children, teenagers, and adults alike. When your body gets into a routine, it makes it run more efficiently, with less change of sleepiness, fatigue and daytime tiredness. Don’t let your teen sleep in or stay up too late on weekends, as this will create a shock when they head back to school on monday (we know you see it all the time).Don’t let the weekend or holiday bedtime get TOO late . This will push the body clock further forward and make it harder to get to sleep earlier when school or work starts again.

Be realistic

It is all well and good to say you’ll be in your adjustable bed with your lights out at 7pm, but if you know you’re not actually going to do that then there is no point. The beautiful thing about our bodies is they adapt, so help your teen find a time that works for them, and then KEEP AT IT!

Know the signs of fatigue

Teenagers are infamously moody creatures (blame it on the hormones), but when you start noticing excessive signs of fatigue, which include depression, withdrawal, anxiety, aggression, inattention, difficulty in school and frustration at small things, it is time to intervene. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep, and it will do wonders for our moody teens.


The power of power naps is nothing to sneer at. Just 15 to 20 minutes can cut into the sleep deficit you are building, and make you feel energized and refreshed. Don’t oversleep though or you may get the opposite effect.

Focus on sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the formation of healthy behaviors and habits which will positively affect your sleep. This can include:

  • Ensuring your room is dark, quiet and relaxed
  • Having a regular bedtime to become accustomed to
  • Mediation, stress relief or breathing exercises
  • No caffeine, sugar or stimulants before bed
  • Using blue light filters on devices
  • Substituting smartphones for books while in bed
  • In fact, just get all the technology out of their bedrooms. Bedrooms should
    be a place of peace, unwinding and relaxing.

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