How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Really Need?

If you have the pleasure of living with a teenager you’ll know just how much they love their bed. They stay up until the small hours chatting to their friends, binge watching the latest Netflix series, listening to music, or sometimes all three at the same time. Which of course then means they’re unlikely to surface the next day until at least lunchtime.

But the question is, how much sleep do teenagers really need? Are their body clocks that different to adults? Do teens have their own time zone? We’re going to answer all these questions and more, so keep reading and find out everything you need to know about sleep and your teen.

Why Do Teenagers Need More Sleep Than Adults?

This subject has come up in our house recently, with both teens claiming they need more sleep than us. The evidence for this came from TikTok apparently, well heck if it’s on TikTok it must be true, right?!? I figured it needed further investigation…

Turns out, they were right, teenagers really do need more sleep than adults, but why is that? Well, during those tumultuous pubic years, not only are teens growing at a rate of knots both physically and emotionally, there are other developmental changes happening too. Including a shift in their circadian cycle – a day to night cycle of key body functions, one of which is sleep. And what this means is that during puberty, teenagers all of a sudden find themselves not being able to fall asleep as early as they used to. Sure, phones, Snapchat and Netflix play a part, but aside from the digital distractions, the change to their circadian cycle is to blame here. At this stage of their lives, teens will naturally fall asleep later, sleep longer, and therefore struggle to get up as easily for school the next day. Hence the long weekend lie ins!

Another factor that influences how and when teenagers sleep is melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps control sleep. When going through puberty, what with all the hormonal changes and everything, melatonin production shifts to a slightly different time, meaning its release is delayed. Ever had your teen tell you they can’t get to sleep? You might think they’re trying their luck, but chances are they can’t, and it’s mostly down to the fact their bodies just aren’t ready to fall asleep yet because of the delayed melatonin release.

And when the melatonin does kick in, it kicks in hard, so they’ll sleep for longer and for later… if they can get away with it!

How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Need Compared To Adults?

The average adult needs roughly 7 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep each night. Teens on the other hand need to be aiming for between eight and 10 hours.

So, let’s do the maths.

If you can get your teen to go to bed at 10pm that means they’ll be waking up any when from 6 – 8am in the morning. Sounds doable, right? But of course, that relies on that 10pm bedtime, which is near on impossible considering the whole delayed melatonin thing. You tell your teen to go to bed at 10pm and it’s effectively like you going to bed at 8pm. So, we move it all forward an hour… bedtime is now 11pm, which means wake up time is between 7-9am. But even that bedtime might be ambitious, I’ve heard my teenage son moving about in his room way later than that, and that’s even with his phone out of the room and the Wifi turned off. All of a sudden, the wake up time is getting later and later, which wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for school.

Most schools start at 8.30-9ish. Taking into account things like eating breakfast, getting dressed, showering, sorting out lunch, packing a bag, traveling to school, you probably need at least an hour, probably more to fit all of that in to make it into school on time. So, that’s 7.30am absolute latest as a wake up time, and that’s also not allowing for any alarm snoozes, which we know teens love. The numbers just don’t add up. And it certainly explains the moodiness and grunting you experience first hand from your teen each day!

Throughout puberty, where there’s this rapid growth and hormonal shift, teens understandably need more sleep than adults. Good quality sleep can help them with the following:

  • Skin health
  • Mood management
  • Energy levels
  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Performance
  • Stress management

Whilst we as adults need all these things too, teen brains and bodies are going through significant development at a rate much faster than adults, and this requires more sleep.

How Can Teens Get More Sleep?

Telling them they need to go to bed, certainly as they go into the latter teenage years, probably isn’t going to cut it. Listening to their parents isn’t exactly high on the priority list of a teenager. But sitting down over dinner and having a casual conversation about how sleep is good for us and the reasons why, will be way more effective and hopefully at least some of what you say will sink in at some point.

There was talk of later starting times in secondary schools, however because of the practicalities of that we are unlikely to see that happen any time soon. So, all you can do is suggest the following:

  • Sleep environment – make their room cosy, clutter free (easier said than done I know!), dark, quiet and cool.
  • Tech time – Set a rule for everyone in the house to take down any technology, including phones, at a set time in the evening. Ideally this should be at least an hour before lights out.
  • Caffeine cut off – Caffeine and sleep do not go hand in hand. Suggest switching to decaf versions and steer clear of those energy drinks!
  • Exercise – The more exercise you do, the better you sleep, fact. Just don’t do it too close to bedtime or it will have the opposite effect.
  • Sleep ritual – Create some sleep-inducing habits such as having a bath, reading a book, meditating to help those sleep inducing hormone kick in.

There’s no denying that it can be tricky monitoring how much sleep your teen is actually getting, but you’ll certainly know about it when they’ve not had enough. Creating good sleep habits during adolescence will help them as they move forward into adulthood

Every teen is different, and how much sleep they need will vary slightly. However, what we can take from this is that yes, teenagers need more sleep than adults, and yes there is a very good reason why they need to stay up later than us. The hardest bit is getting them to listen to any advice you have to offer!

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