Sleep Deprivation in Teens: A Common Problem

Young male student sleeping at his desk.

Teens on average need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night. But most don’t get the amount of sleep they need. School, friends, homework, activities, television, and the computer may all have a higher priority for a teen than sleep. Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for a teen’s health and well-being. Here’s how to better understand your child’s sleep needs and what you can do to help.

A teen’s natural sleep rhythms

Teens tend to stay up late and want to sleep late in the morning. This isn’t due to laziness or stubbornness. It's actually due to natural rhythms of the teen’s body. Body chemicals in teens work to make the teen naturally want to go to bed around midnight or later and wake up in the late morning. Early school start times conflict with these natural body rhythms. And pressures on a teen’s time after school keep him or her from going to bed early to compensate. The result is often a sleep-deprived teen.

Why should I be concerned?

Teens who don’t get enough sleep may have trouble focusing in class and have lower grades than they are capable of. A chronic lack of sleep in teens has been linked with an increased risk of being overweight, developing diabetes or heart disease, and getting infections. Teens who are sleep deprived may fall asleep in class or other inappropriate places. And for teens who are driving, being sleepy can raise the risk of a serious accident.

Signs that your teen needs more sleep

Is your teen sleep deprived? Watch for the following signs:

  • Daytime sleepiness

  • Trouble concentrating or remembering

  • Irritability

  • Need for caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake

  • Need for naps after school

  • Poor grades

  • Trouble sleeping (problems falling asleep or staying asleep)

What you can do

Tips to help your child get more sleep and be more alert during the day:

  • Encourage your teen to get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. Try to set a regular bedtime. Help your teen avoid staying up late to do homework or study. If extracurricular activities after school are too time-consuming, consider cutting back.

  • Have your teen get up at the same time every morning. Discourage sleeping in on weekends to “catch up on sleep.” This does more harm than good by throwing sleep rhythms off.

  • Limit caffeine intake. Don’t let your child have caffeine after lunchtime.

  • Discourage doing anything in bed other than sleeping, such as reading, writing, eating, watching TV, talking on the phone, or playing videos or other games.

  • Restrict TV and computer use (which can be stimulating) for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, encourage reading, listening to quiet music, writing in a journal, or other calming activity during this time.

  • Give your teen a warm, noncaffeinated beverage (such as milk) before bed.

  • Make the bedroom conducive to sleep. Take the TV, computer, and phone out of the bedroom. Make sure the bedroom is cool and as dark and quiet as possible.

  • Turn a bright light on in the child’s room in the morning. The bright light helps the body wake up and shuts down production of sleep hormones. Alarm clocks with a light feature are available on the Internet.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

The following can be signs of a more serious problem that can be treated. Let the child’s healthcare provider know if your child:

  • Falls asleep during the day

  • Has leg twitching or moving when trying to fall asleep, or extremely restless sleep

  • Sleepwalks

  • Snores loudly

  • Has insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep) often