A Healthy Sleep Schedule for Teens

Getting teens to bed at a reasonable hour can help them behave and function better during the day. Here’s how you can get your adolescent on a healthy sleep schedule.

Teens typically need up to 10 hours of sleep each night to function at their best during the day. Problem is, many adolescents don’t get the healthy sleep they need. Getting teens on a regular sleep schedule can improve their health, as well as their performance at school and at home, but it will require a creative approach.

If you have a teen, you have seen firsthand that children’s sleep needs change over time. According to Kathy Gromer, MD, a sleep medicine physician at the Minnesota Sleep Institute in Edina, infants need roughly 16 hours of sleep each day. By age 4, children begin sleeping mostly at night, but they still need 10 to 12 hours of sleep. “Teens need 9 to 10 hours, although there is some natural variability,” says Dr. Gromer.

While teens’ daily sleep requirements do decline somewhat, they also naturally begin going to bed later. “It isn’t just bone-headedness, it’s biology,” says Gromer. But this normal tendency can spell trouble if high school hours start earlier than what teens are used to. And when teens’ sleep needs and a shifting sleep schedule are combined with a packed activity schedule, it can cut into the amount of healthy sleep they’re getting. Factor in their tendency to wake up later in the morning on weekends, and it can add up to frustration for parents trying to get their teens on a healthy sleep schedule.

The Consequences of Not Getting Enough Sleep

If teens don’t get the 9 to 10 hours of healthy sleep they need each night, they become sleep-deprived.

Sleep deprivation can cause many negative effects in adolescents, such as:

  • Depression. A recent study in the journal Sleep found that teens with later bedtimes were more likely to develop depression and have suicidal thoughts. “There is a close tie in the brain biology between sleep and depression,” says Gromer.
  • Bad grades. Teens who don’t get the sleep they need tend to have problems with memory and performance at school.
  • Behavior problems. Too little sleep can cause teens to have a decreased attention span, increased hyperactivity, and more temper tantrums.
  • Driving accidents. Since sleepy teens tend to have a delayed response time, they are at risk of causing a driving accident. If your teen seems unusually tired in the morning or irritable or drowsy later in the day, he or she may be sleep-deprived.

Getting Teens on a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Here are tips for helping teens get the sleep they need:

  • Have a talk. Between school, homework, family time, and before and after school activities, it may be difficult for your teen to find nine hours to sleep each night. Talk with your kids about how much sleep they are getting, why it’s important for them to get enough sleep, and how to carve out more sleep time.
  • Work out a sleep schedule. “Put your foot down,” says Gromer. “Get the computer and TV out of the bedroom, set a curfew, and make sure they get the chance to sleep at least eight and preferably nine hours per night. If you can’t make that fit their schedule, maybe they shouldn’t have that late night shift at the pizza joint or two intramural sports to attend.”
  • Allow your teen to catch up on sleep. “Let them sleep in on the weekends if they can’t get sleep time on weeknights,” says Gromer. Teens who catch up on lost sleep during their downtime are less likely to experience symptoms of sleep deprivation.
  • Set bedtimes and wake times. Talk to your teen about going to sleep and waking up at set times, which can make it easier for them to get the healthy sleep they need. It’s important to involve your kids in setting their bedtime so that it doesn’t feel like a punishment.
  • Limit caffeine. “Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep,” says Gromer. “Plus, caffeinated beverages can keep them up later and make it harder to rise in the morning.”
  • Make over the bedroom. Make some adjustments in your teen’s bedroom so that it is cool, dark, and comfortable. In addition to the computer and TV, consider removing the radio and any phones from the room, since these devices also can distract your teen from healthy sleep.

Working with your teen to set a healthy sleep schedule has many benefits. Teens who regularly get enough sleep think better, perform better, and are more enjoyable to be around.

By Krisha McCoy, MS – Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH