Why Do Teenagers Sleep So Much?

A common question uttered by parents as they struggle to get their child out of bed and through the door

By Nicole Gleichmann

Most everyone enjoys sleeping in from time-to-time. Still, it seems like nobody can shine a candle to a teenager’s persistent desire to sleep. Counterintuitively, it’s this same group that wants to stay up late, night after night, in spite of having classes early the following morning.

Why is it that teens seem to always be sleepy during the day, alert at night, and comatose come morning? We’re here to share with you the secrets that explain teen sleep patterns.

The Complicated Relationship Between Teens and Sleep

Teenagers need more sleep than adults do. Sleep is the time when the body and brain rest, recover, and grow. And as all parents know, teens have a lot of growing to do.

On average, teens require between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night. The trouble is, they rarely get it, and they don’t hide their sleep deprivation well. Without enough sleep, teens are likely to be fatigued, distracted, and moody.

Over time, the consequences of sleep deprivation can become hard to ignore. According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, teens who slept less were more likely to suffer from depression. And drowsy driving can end in tragedy.

So, why is it that teens struggle to get the recommended 8 or more hours of sleep each night?

For most, the troubled relationship with sleep begins during puberty when their biological clock shifts. We each have an internal clock (known as the circadian rhythm) that is responsible for our sleep-wake cycles. This body clock is pushed back two hours once puberty hits.

Rather than becoming sleepy at 8 or 9, a teen is more likely to get tired at 10 or 11. And with school starting early, it’s next to impossible for kids to get the sleep that they need regularly.

As a result of mid-week demands and the resultant sleep deprivation, many teenagers sleep well into the afternoon on weekends. It can be hard to strike the right balance here. The ideal is for your teen to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, sleeping between 8 and 10 hours. But for many teens, that regularity is too high of a bar to reach.

Tips for Helping Your Teen Get the Sleep They Need

Some level of sleep deprivation may be an unavoidable consequence of growing older. But there is still value for parents and teens to work together towards setting a healthy sleep schedule. Here are some tips for doing so.

  • Schedule Wake Times: During both weekdays and weekends, set scheduled wakeup times. Ideally, these times would be the same throughout the week, but you may need to be flexible. Do not have these times vary by more than two hours.
  • Set an Ideal Sleep Time: Teen sleep needs to be scheduled according to when school starts. Set a bedtime that allows a minimum of 8 hours of nightly sleep. Some flexibility here may be necessary when your teen has a particularly busy schedule.
  • Create Healthy Habits: If your child has difficulties falling asleep, limit light exposure and stimulation an hour before bed. Try to avoid electronic devices altogether. When they must be used, have them set to night mode.

Causes of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

It can be easy to write off teens’ daytime sluggishness, moodiness, and fatigue as an unavoidable consequence of the cacophony of hormones and lack of sleep. But sometimes, daytime fatigue can be caused by another underlying factor.

If you find that your kids struggle with sleepiness no matter what steps you take, it might be time to figure out if there’s another cause. Be on the lookout for the following.

Medications

Many common medications can result in daytime fatigue. They can directly cause drowsiness or inhibit sleep, leading to fatigue the following day. Medications that can cause drowsiness include antihistamines, ADD and ADHD medications, antidepressants, and cold medicines.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are often undiagnosed in children and teenagers. The difficulty is that every child is different, and it’s hard to tell what’s normal. Some of the more common sleep disorders in teens include:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea results in an inability to get enough air during sleep. If your child is an avid snorer, they may have sleep apnea.
  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder marked by unexpected bouts of daytime sleepiness caused by an overlap of sleep cycles during wakefulness.

Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine

Substance use contributes to trouble sleeping. Caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep at night, leading to a need to sleep in each morning. Similarly, both alcohol and nicotine use disrupt sleep and cause daytime fatigue.


Conclusion

Excess daytime sleepiness is common among teenagers, even those who seem to get enough sleep. Work with your teen to set healthy habits. If you are worried that there might be something else going on, talk with your child’s physician. Proper sleep can make all of the difference in your teen’s happiness and quality of life.


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