The sleep needs of teenagers: How much is enough?

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Updated on Jul 09, 2024 · 9 mins read
The sleep needs of teenagers: How much is enough?

You can't recall the exact day it happened. But one morning, you found that your chirpy tween had metamorphosed into a grumpy teen—or, for lack of a better word, a sleep-deprived zombie.


If that sounds like your kid, chances are, their mood and the lack of energy in the morning might have less to do with an apocalypse and more to do with their sleep. 

Before you start that morning lecture, here’s an interesting fact: your teen’s not the only one sleeping late and feeling the effects early in the morning.

A recent study conducted by VicHealth and the Sleep Health Foundation found that the average Australian teen gets between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep a night, which is less than the eight to ten hours recommended.

How many hours of sleep do teens need?


So, why is your teen all about staying up late? And how much more sleep do they need?

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, the recommended snooze fest should be between 8 and 10 hours of sleep time! Teens need this uninterrupted sleep per night to support healthy growth, learning, and development.

Interesting fact: the amount of sleep a person requires depends largely on age, and teens need more sleep than adults.

Getting enough sleep is crucial for teen’s sleep, as it helps them:

  • Stay focused
  • Learn new information
  • Develop physically and emotionally.

This extra sleep isn’t because they’re lazy but because their bodies are growing, their brains are learning, and they’re dealing with a hormone soup that would confuse even the best chef. 

(Just like they need to recharge their phones, they need to recharge their brains! )

On the other hand, teens who struggle with sleep deprivation find themselves suffering from:

  • Mood swings
  • Decreased cognitive function and reduced academic performance
  • A higher risk of accidents.

Optimising sleep for teens can help prevent mental health problems. They are more sensitive to sleep loss than adults, with sleep deprivation linked to substance use, car crashes, and mental health issues.

The bottom line is that as parents, we need to make sure these life-sized ‘smart’ devices are in bed and getting their much-needed zZzs. Their battery life drains quickly without enough sleep, leaving them glitchy and prone to random shutdowns and emotional outbursts.


Factors affecting teen sleep


Being a teen today is not an easy feat. But with a packed schedule and a draining physical activity after school, why doesn’t your exhausted teen fall asleep early?

Here are 3 factors:

1. Time demands and overscheduling

Many teenagers have a jam-packed weekly schedule, which can require their time and attention. With so much to try to fit into each day, many teens do not allocate sufficient time for sleep. Similarly, the pressure to succeed while managing these extensive commitments can be stressful, and stress has been known to contribute to sleep problems and insomnia.

2. Use of electronic devices and social media

Yes, this is one millennial parents are quite familiar with. Research has found that 89% or more of teens keep at least one device in their bedroom at night. Screen time late into the evening is known to contribute to sleeping problems.

Using electronic devices can be stimulating, and incoming notifications can disrupt sleep. And then time warps when you enter the world of Instagram reels and TikTok. Wait, Is it 11 pm already?

3. School start times and sleep timing

Early school start times are linked to teen sleep loss. With most Australian high schools starting before 8:30 a.m., Australian teens need to be up by 7 or 7:30 to arrive on time.

Since a teenager’s sleep schedule shifts later due to a circadian rhythm shift, they feel sleepy later at night and aren’t ready to wake up until later in the morning. This mismatch throws their sleep schedules totes off.


The consequences of sleep deprivation


So, how bad is the lack of sleep?

Sleep deprivation can have a range of negative effects on a teenager’s life. The study found that the devices these kids are glued to did impact their sleep patterns!

The study also found that sleep problems during childhood and adolescence are predictive of depression later in life, which is why it’s important to develop good sleep habits now.

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact a teen’s sleep, including decreased cognitive function, mood swings, and an increased risk of accidents. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to emotional issues such as depression and aggression. It can also affect teenagers’ ability to process new information, think critically, and regulate emotions

Some consequences might be:

Their emotional health and well-being

Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences, like depression and substance abuse.

Insufficient or reduced sleep can affect mood, causing irritability and exaggerating emotional reactions. (It happens to the best of us, too.)

And prolonged sleep loss negatively affects emotional development, increases the risk of interpersonal conflict and leads to serious mental health problems. Sleep-deprived teens are more likely to report anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

In short, if you want a healthy and happy teen around the house, you must maintain good sleep habits. They’re also essential for their academic performance and overall well-being.

Physical health and development

Research has found that adolescents who fail to get enough sleep have a troubling metabolic profile, evaluated through blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other factors. So if you want your teen to avoid health problems in his 40’s, make sure he gets better sleep in his teen years.

Sleep disorders and mental health


Sometimes, it’s not the phone but another underlying problem. Some teens have poor sleep because of an underlying sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).OSA frequently causes fragmented sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Some teens can suffer from sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy.

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can also be a challenge to quality sleep in teens as well as adults. Insufficient sleep contributes to these conditions and, in turn, creates a bidirectional relationship that worsens both sleep and emotional wellness.

Research has also found that neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder, can also make it harder for teens to sleep well.

Tips to help your teen get enough sleep


  • Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time for eight or more hours of sleep.
  • Get your teen to relax before bed. Go ahead and try some mindfulness activities like meditation or gentle yoga.
  • Avoid stimulants in the evening, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks. Instead, try chamomile tea or a warm glass of milk.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment, such as keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Try to switch off screens an hour before bed. Instead, read a book or listen to music as you sip your tea.
  • Make sure your teen gets enough physical exercise during the day.
  • Try to spend time together as a family in the evening.
  • Help teens prioritize sleep and consider paring down commitments to make time for sleep.

TIP: Reducing blue light exposure before bed and ensuring sufficient sleep on school nights can significantly benefit their developing brain. That also means no more doom scrolling for you!

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule to help regulate a teenager’s body clock.
  • Skip the caffeine. (Chocolate and energy drinks contain caffeine, so make sure your teen doesn’t snack on them before bedtime. )
  • Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, such as watching TV or playing video games. Instead, encourage a relaxing bedtime routine like reading or listening to calming music.
  • Encourage teens to rethink their schedule, take afternoon naps, and ban tech from the bedroom to improve sleep quality.

How to Create a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom:

Your teen may not be the princess from “The Princess and the Pea,” but they can feel a lumpy mattress and hear every noise in a chaotic bedroom. This can make it hard for them to sleep and stay asleep.

Darkness, quiet, and temperature control are key. Use night lights to create a comfortable sleep environment. Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature to promote healthy sleep habits. Ensure the mattress is supportive and the right combo of soft and firm – as even a small lump can disturb your teen’s sleep. Remove distractions and create a calming bedtime routine to help your teen wind down and drift off to sleep easily.

Resources and support


Need additional information and support for sleep-related issues?

  • Visit the Sleep Health Foundation and National Sleep Foundation for information and resources about sleep in younger kids and adolescents.
  • Get in touch with a healthcare provider or sleep medicine specialist for personalized advice on sleep-related issues.
  • Reach out to a pediatrician or mental health provider for guidance on establishing healthy sleep habits.
  • Consider sleep medicine reviews and research to stay informed about the latest sleep-related findings.

Frequently asked questions


1. How much sleep do kids need?

While your infant may need up to 12 to 16 hours, your toddler needs about 11 to 14 hours, including naps, of course.

A pre-schooler needs about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, while middle schoolers need 9 to 11 hours.

And when it comes to teens, this age group needs 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.

2. When should I consult a doctor about my child’s sleep problems?

If your teen is getting less than eight hours of sleep, you can tackle the problem by making sure they go to bed early and have a consistent sleep routine. However, some children and teens struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. You should consult a doctor if:

  • If your teen is sleeping a lot or way too little,
  • If your teen has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep (Or wakes up frequently),
  • Has symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation
  • Snores loudly or has trouble breathing during sleep
  • Moves in a concerning way while sleeping

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your GP. In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and if you’re not sure whether to go to an emergency department, you call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.

Sources


Healthy Sleep, Children’s Health Queensland. Available at: https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/health-a-to-z/healthy-sleep

Teenagers and sleep, Better Health Channel. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/teenagers-and-sleep

Teenagers and Sleep: How Much Sleep Is Enough?, John Hopkins Medicine. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/teenagers-and-sleep-how-much-sleep-is-enough

 

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