How Sleep May Be Impacting Your Teen

When we are overtired, everything in our life suffers.  We are moody and irritable which affects our personal relationships.  Our ability to concentrate and focus is compromised, making it difficult to learn, retain, and recall information.  We lack energy which makes exercise and physical activity difficult.  We drive when we are drowsy which endangers our lives and the lives of everyone else on the road.  For teens and adolescents, sleep deprivation can cause these problems and more at one of the most crucial developmental periods of their lives.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep is as important to our health as breathing clean air and eating healthy food.  According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), there is a relationship between how much sleep you get, the quality of the sleep you get, and your overall health.  If you don’t get enough sleep, it can impact your hormone levels, impact the way your body handles insulin, and increase your risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and becoming obese.  In addition to the health risks, sleep deprivation is also the primary cause of drowsy driving and has a detrimental effect on grades and scholastic achievement.

The Facts about Teens and Sleep

If your teen is staying up late and struggling to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, it isn’t because they are being lazy or disobedient; and simply telling them that they need to go to bed earlier isn’t likely to fix this issue. Our biological sleep patterns shift when we are teens making it difficult to fall asleep before about 11:00PM.  Because teens need as much as nine hours sleep each night, this biological shift makes it difficult for teens to get the sleep they need and still get up for school on time.

Teens are not getting the sleep they need.  One study cited by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 85% of teenagers are getting less than 8.5 hours of sleep on most school nights despite the fact that many teens actually need more than nine hours of sleep every night.  Another study  showed that 26% of high school students are sleeping less than 6.5 hours a night which is causing a serious sleep debt to accrue.

The Dangers for Teens

The list of problems that sleep deprivation contributes to is long and varied.  While most of these problems affect anyone who isn’t getting enough sleep, the consequences to teenagers can be different than those for adults.  Here are some of the problems the National Sleep Foundation and the American Psychological Association sleep deprivation in teens can cause:

  • Problems with learning including difficulty concentrating, listening, problem solving, remembering, and with behavior.  Sleep deprivation can lead to aggressive and inappropriate behavior including outbursts, anger, and impatience.
  • Acne.
  • Increases the likelihood of overeating and making bad food choices which when combined with hormonal changes caused by lack of sleep contribute to weight gain and obesity.
  • Increases the use of caffeine and nicotine.
  • Increases the risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident.
  • May be linked to depression and other mood disorders.


The best way to combat sleep deprivation in teenagers is to make sleep a priority and encourage them to follow a consistent sleep routine.  Helping teens learn to use naps appropriately, create a good sleep environment, and stick to a schedule can decrease their likelihood of being sleep deprived while also teaching them the skills they need to be good sleep managers throughout their lives.


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