Adolescent sleep: Why your teen’s love of sleep might be due to more than just laziness

Teenagers and sleep


We’re over half-way through the summer holidays and if you have an adolescent in your midst at home you may well have noticed that their ability to sleep has reached epic proportions. But recent research has shown that there may be more to this partial hibernation than first meets the eye.

In fact, it’s been found that development during those teenage years actually requires longer periods of sleep as they go through important periods of physical and mental development.


Recommended sleep times

There is no exact figure for how much sleep an adolescent requires during these developmental years, as different people have different needs – just as puberty and growth takes place at different speeds for young adults.

A combination of lifestyle factors such as jobs, stress and caffeine intake can also play an important role in the amount of sleep a teenager will feel they need.  There are, however, broad guidelines that can be applied to different age groups.

While teenagers do not need as many hours in bed as infants (12-15 hours) or toddlers (11-14 hours), they can require anywhere between 8 and 11 hours a night to help them feel truly restored and awake. Typically, older teens require slightly less than younger teens but this is far from an exact science. What we do know, is that older teenagers have been shown to be genetically predisposed to going to bed later at night and also to have longer lie ins. This is because of the difference in teenagers’ production of the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for making us feel sleepy. During puberty, the hormone starts to be produced later at night, meaning the onset of sleep can be later for those further into adolescent changes.


Are modern teens sleeping less than they should?

If you’ve witnessed a teenager enjoying a lie-in this summer, it may be hard to believe that they could be lacking sleep. But it is becoming apparent that modern lifestyles are making it less likely that teenagers are achieving enough hours of quality sleep.

In fact, studies have shown that only 20% of teenagers actually get the recommended hours, and over 50% report feelings of tiredness throughout the day. Furthermore, teens have been shown to have irregular sleep patterns across the week, typically staying up very late at weekends and consequently sleeping well into the day.

The proliferation of TVs computers and mobile devices is making it harder for the teens of today to turn time in bed into genuinely restorative sleep. Screen time before bed can make it harder for the brain to shut down and make it harder to progress through the necessary sleep cycle. Without the correct amounts of non-REM and REM sleep, teens will not only awake feeling fatigued, but may also suffer problems with brain development and memory retention over a prolonged period of time.


Why sleep is essential for teenagers

Given that sleep is considered food for the brain, for a teenager partaking in lessons, homework and exams, a good nights rest is essential. It is generally believed that missing out on sleep can be potentially be more harmful to a student’s grades than missing out on revision time.

Moreover, sleep plays an essential role in bodily functions such as growth, with as much as 80% of the bodies production of human growth hormone taking place during the sleeping hours. Missing out on sleep could therefore be detrimental to their growth spurt.

Additional consequences of missing out on sleep can include increased chances of acne breakouts and obesity. Tiredness has been further linked with aggressive behaviour.

So before you start opening curtains or banging pots and pans outside your teenager’s room this holiday, maybe you should consider giving them an extra half hour to enjoy their sleep.