Does your teenager stay up late? Have a difficult time getting up for school? Sleep in till all hours on the weekends? Don't be too hard on him. Both biological and sociological factors drive these sleep patterns.

Adolescents and Sleep

Everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite, and hormonal changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, most children naturally fall asleep around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Once they hit puberty, however, this is delayed until at least 11:00 p.m. (and many teens stay up much later).

Teens and young adults (ages 12 to 25) are at high risk for problem sleepiness, says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Adolescents really need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep daily and most get fewer than eight during the school week.

Furthermore, teens often sleep almost two hours longer on the weekends. Irregular sleep patterns can actually cause poor sleep. Psychosocial factors, such as heavy involvement in school activities, sports, and jobs further aggravate teens' sleep problems.

The Dangers of Sleepiness

Excessive sleepiness can have life and death consequences when it causes lapses in attention and delayed response time. Drowsiness and fatigue are responsible for more than 100,000 traffic crashes annually, and adolescents and young adults are particularly at risk.

According to the NSF, insufficient sleep is also associated with reduced short-term memory and learning ability, negative mood, inconsistent performance, poor productivity, increased use of stimulants, and loss of some forms of behavioral control.

What You Can Do

Parents can help their teens get sufficient sleep.

  • Adjust lighting. Dim lights near bedtime, turn them off completely during sleep and expose your teen to bright lights in the morning. This cues the body it's time to wake or sleep and reinforces the brain's circadian timing system.

  • Stick to a schedule. Encourage teens to go to bed and rise the same time every day. Limit working hours during school to fewer than 20.

  • Encourage short naps. A 30-minute nap can help (too much longer may disrupt night-time sleep).

  • Limit caffeine consumption late in the day.

  • Keep electronics and cell phones out of your teen's room.

  • Avoid sleep medications, such as zolpidem (ambien), and make sure your teen doesn't use products such as Benadryl or Nyquil to help them sleep.

  • Lobby your school district to start classes later. Research shows that when daily high school schedules are delayed from early morning start times, kids sleep more, are more alert in early classes, more likely to eat breakfast, and less likely to fall asleep in class. Furthermore, attendance increases and tardiness decreases.

David Levine, MD, reviewed this article.



National Sleep Foundation. "Adolescent Sleep Needs And Patterns." Accessed June 17, 2013.

Mayo Clinic. "Teen Sleep: Why is Your Teen So Tired?" Last modified March 20, 2013.

National Heart Lung & Blood Institute. "2003 National Sleep Disorders Research Plan." Accessed June 17, 2013.

Mary A. Carskadon, Amy R. Wolfson, Christine Acebo, Orna Tzischinsky, and Ronald Seifer. " Adolescent Sleep Patterns, Circadian Timing, and Sleepiness at a Transition to Early School Days."SLEEP  21(8) (1998): 871-881, accessed June 17, 2013.