How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Really Need?

September 26, 2023

In the complex world of parenting teens, the question often asked is, “Why is my teenager always so tired?” Teenage sleep is indeed a tricky puzzle, but with a little time and patience, we’ll help you fit the pieces together.

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you are probably no stranger to the seemingly endless cycle of groggy, sleep-deprived mornings. As you detect the sounds of TikTok from their room at midnight (again!), you might wonder how much sleep they are getting and whether it’s enough. 

The facts about teen sleep

For good health, current guidelines1 say that children ages 5 - 13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Teens ages 14-17 need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. 

These numbers are based on extensive research that highlights the critical role that sleep plays in physical, intellectual, and emotional development during adolescence. 

Unfortunately, the Public Health Agency of Canada says that one in four children is not getting enough sleep. A 2019 CBC feature on teens and sleep reported, “Studies suggest more than half of Canadian teens get much less, about 6.5 to 7.5 hours per night.” 

Add this to the fact that teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns during the week - typically, they may stay up later and sleep in on the weekends, which can impact the quality of their sleep - and teens run the risk of longer-term health consequences as a result of chronic sleep deprivation.

Why aren’t teens getting enough sleep? 

As teenagers grow and develop, there are biological cues telling them when to sleep2. Before puberty, your child’s body may send signals that it’s time to sleep around 8 or 9pm. When puberty begins, there is a shift in circadian rhythms, and teenagers' bodies are telling them to go to sleep later - around 10 or 11pm. 

As this shift happens, they may be more inclined to stay awake later and sleep in. This can clash with early school start times, causing a chronic sleep deficit. During school, when teens still need to wake up early, it’s important that they go to bed on time to get the sleep they need.  

According to UCLA Health, “If teens resist or ignore this change, they will make this time of transition very hard on their bodies. They will only hurt themselves by staying up too late at night doing homework or talking with friends…At the end of the school week, many teens are worn out from all the sleep they missed. They think that sleeping in much later on the weekend will help them catch up. This only throws their body clocks off even more. It will be even harder for them to fall asleep and wake up on time when the new school week begins.”

How to tell if your teen is sleep-deprived

There are clear signs, and you’re probably familiar with some of them, that your teen is not getting enough sleep. These include3

  • Trouble waking up in the morning
  • Acting cranky or irritable
  • Falling asleep easily during the day (unplanned naps)
  • Suddenly struggling with grades or school work 
  • Sleeping for very long periods on the weekends and holidays

Practical tips to help your teen get the sleep they need

What can you, as a parent, do to help your teenager get enough sleep? 

  1. Set a consistent bedtime. We know it’s easier said than done, but encouraging a regular bedtime routine and sticking to it, even on weekends, is key.
  2. Avoid too much action before bed. Instead of computer games, movies, or even intense studying, the focus should be on winding down before sleep.
  3. Encourage healthy sleep habits. Talk to them about avoiding caffeine at night. Keep their room dark and comfortably cool for sleep. Some teens might like to wear an eye mask. White noise, lavender essential oils, and chamomile tea can also help4
  4. Monitor the demands on their time. Keep an eye on your teen’s schedule  to make sure they have enough time for their extracurricular activities, social time, and academics and still have a chance to unwind and relax before bedtime. 
  5. Watch the weekend sleep schedule. If teens are sleeping later on weekends, they should limit it to no more than two hours later than their usual wake-up time. Sleeping in longer than this can disrupt their body clock and make Monday morning much more difficult.

A note on melatonin

Before you reach for the melatonin, consider a recent study by Harvard-affiliated sleep researchers published in Sleep Health, which sought to explore the prevalence of common sleep myths and present counterevidence to clarify what is best for health.

Two-thirds of the parents served believed that “Melatonin supplements are safe for adolescents because they are natural.” According to this article summarizing the findings, “While melatonin has become a common supplement for adults and adolescents, longer-term studies on its use are lacking, particularly when it comes to melatonin’s effects on puberty and development.” 

The study's authors raised concerns about teens taking melatonin without a medical assessment and without using behavioural interventions to help with sleep.

Sleep plays a major role in a teenager’s growth and development. A well-rested teenager is a healthier and happier growing person. Recognizing the signs of chronic sleepiness and fatigue and creating solid bedtime routines will help your teen get the sleep they so desperately need. 

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