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Ways to help teens get more sleep

There’s a stereotype for teens of sleeping in late, struggling to wake up and being night owls. It’s one we’ve all seen, and you may even see it in your own home. But it’s a real thing. Teens can have difficulty sleeping because they often face a perfect storm of biological and social factors that disrupt sleep. Teens need an average of 9 hours of sleep each night and with a little help, it can be possible.  

What’s causing sleep trouble?

Teenagers have a lot on their plates. They can have school responsibilities, after-school programs, clubs, sports, jobs and a social life. There’s just not enough time in the day to fit it all in, which forces them to sleep less than the recommended 9 hours each night, which can be one cause of a sleep disorder called “insufficient sleep syndrome.” 

Biologically, a teen’s internal clock makes it harder for them to go to bed early and makes them want to wake up late. Many teens are wired this way during the teenage developmental years. Add in an early school start time and scrolling on social media late into the night, and it all leads to lack of sleep and an increased risk of mood disorders like anxiety and depression. 

Sleep disorders

There are many different types of sleep disorders. We often see teens struggling with a few types of disorders like insomnia, a condition where it’s hard to fall or stay asleep and narcolepsy, a disorder affecting the brain and makes a person very sleepy at any time. But there are good options for treatment for sleep disorders. 

Sleep therapies will vary based on each person, but commonly can include behavior therapy, medication or a combination of both. Your child’s primary care doctor can help you find the best fit for your child’s unique diagnosis. 

Tips for teens to get more sleep

Sleep is important for brain function, development and overall well-being. To get those good grades and make the winning shot in a game, sleep is key. So, prioritizing sleep every day, even on weekends, is essential.

  • Set up a calming environment. Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, at a comfortable temperature and with a comfortable bed.
  • Avoid distractions by limiting device usage 1 hour before bedtime. This includes phones, TV and other electronics. Instead, try reading, meditating, journaling or drawing to wind down. Also, try to use your phone’s do not disturb feature to mute motivations to limit distractions during sleep. If it’s still a challenge, try to keep devices out of the bedroom. 
  • Decrease exposure to light a night (see the electronics recommendation, above) and increase exposure in the morning. This helps to reset our internal sleep clock.
  • Set yourself up for sleep success by being active and eating healthy during the day. This helps to regulate sleep at night and improve the quality of sleep. Be sure you aren’t doing strenuous activities or eating too close to bedtime. No eating or being active about 1 hour before sleep is a good rule of thumb. 
  • Have a consistent bedtime and wake time during the school week. On the weekends, try not to vary this schedule by more than 1 hour.
  • Try to exercise in the morning and avoid late evening strenuous exercises to limit the effect on internal sleep clock. 

How parents can help 

As teens get older, it’s common for them to set their schedules. But there are still ways you can help your child prioritize sleep starting with talking about it. 

  • Talk with your child about ways to help them get more sleep. 
  • Collect all electronics at bedtime to be charged outside of the bedroom. 
  • Remove the TV out of your child’s room.
  • Encourage homework to be finished as soon as possible, not leading to late-night cram sessions. 
  • Evaluate extra-curricular commitments like jobs, clubs and sports which commonly keep schedules full and prevent teens from getting enough sleep. 
  • Model good sleep hygiene by prioritizing sleep in the home and for yourself. 

When to seek professional sleep support

One of the best ways to improve sleep is by starting a good routine before there is a problem or chronic issue. If your teen is still struggling with sleep concerns such as falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up multiple times (a few times is normal) or insufficient sleep you will want to discuss this with your child’s primary care physician.

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Pediatric Pulmonology, Pediatric Sleep Medicine

Program Director, Sleep Medicine Fellowship; Director, Sleep Center; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Education Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Kansas School of Medicine

Pediatric Sleep Medicine, Child Psychology

Child Psychologist; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine