How much sleep does my teenager need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night. As a comparison, children aged 5 - 12 need between 10 and 11 hours, while adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

Do teenagers usually get the sleep they need every night?

Usually not! With the typical teen's school, afterschool social and sports engagements, work obligations, homework and evening activities (eg, TV watching and internet involvement), there is a lot going on in a teen's life resulting in late bedtime hours.

However, there may be another biological explanation for delayed bedtime aside from all these activities. With the onset of puberty, the adolescent begins to experience a delay in the sleep phase of their biological clock (the timing of the release of the sleep-related hormone melatonin is altered), which means they fall asleep later in the night and would prefer to wake up later in the morning. In other words, they tend to become "night owls." This then makes it more difficult to wake up at the necessary time for school in the morning. Thus, many factors may contribute to sleep deprivation among teenagers.

What are some signs of sleep deprivation and how might it affect my teenager?

Signs of sleep deprivation include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, inattention, tardiness
  • Irritability, hyperactivity, depression, impatience, mood swings, low self-confidence, low tolerance for frustration or other impulse control problems
  • Falling grades and reports of drowsy driving

Excessive sleepiness can impair memory and inhibit creativity, making it difficult to learn. It can also impede concentration, making it dangerous to operate equipment or drive a vehicle. Lack of sleep impairs many bodily functions including metabolism, the immune system and the cardiovascular system and thus affects health. Depression can occur. Your teen can have a difficult time coping with stress and emotion.

What steps can be taken to improve the situation?

First, check your teen's school, after school and work schedules. If too much is on your teen's plate, have your teen select his or her most important activities (beyond school and homework), then cut down on others in order to achieve adequate rest.

Next, make sure your teen is following all of the basic sleep hygiene tips to ensure the best possible setup and environment for sleep. These tips are presented in another document entitled, "Sleeping Tips for Teenagers," and include such things as:

  • Taking a short midday nap
  • Getting exercise
  • Limiting use of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol as well as avoiding stimulating activities in the hour before bedtime
  • Limiting access to cell phone, television and other electronics in the bedroom.

Consider talking with your physician about potential sleep disorders that affect sleep in your teenager.

Finally, treatments are also available that address the delay in the sleep phase of the biological clock that you may wish to discuss with your teen's sleep specialist.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/03/2013.

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