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If your teenager often goes to sleep late and seems tired during the day, it’s likely not their fault. Anxiety about school, friends, family and the state of the world can make it difficult for teens to fall asleep at night. The temptation of being on the internet and looking at social media can also make it difficult to prioritise sleep. What many parents do not know is that hormones play a major role in a teen’s sleep.

During puberty, there is a shift in timing in the body’s circadian rhythm. This natural shift results in teens having a condition called “sleep wake phase delay,” meaning that their melatonin (the hormone that tells us when it’s time to go to sleep) is released a couple of hours later in the night than in younger children and adults. Therefore, falling asleep at earlier times can be difficult for teens, given that they have less pressure from their bodies to fall asleep.

While adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night for optimal functioning, teenagers need 8 – 10 hours of sleep. It is not surprising then that most teens are not getting enough sleep. The 8 – 10 hours of sleep needed along with the body becoming tired later in the evening and early school start times can greatly impact a teen’s everyday life. They may feel lethargic and grouchy during the day, have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and take frequent naps.

Sleep is imperative to teens because they are in a critical period of their development where they are not just growing physically, but also intellectually and emotionally. Chronic sleep deprivation at this age may lead to a myriad of problems, such as poor school performance, car accidents and depression. Teenagers today have busy lives, but sleep still needs to be a priority. They must learn now to prioritise getting an adequate amount of sleep as a form of self-care, or else they are setting themselves up for burn out and problems with mental health as they grow older.

Though it can be frustrating to get your teen out the door in the morning to make it on time to school, it is important to try to offer empathy and understanding toward the struggle to reconcile their biology with the outside demands of time. Instead of adding to your teen’s anxiety about getting an adequate amount of sleep, parents can help them to make adjustments to their sleep habits, such as encouraging them to lessen use of cellphones and other technological devices around bedtime.

You can encourage them to listen to the sleep pressure when they feel it at 12 or 1 in the morning. You can also discourage napping so that your teen has an easier time falling asleep at night and does not disrupt their sleep schedule. Finally, you can work with your teen to practise mindfulness meditation, which can help them relax and clear their minds, alleviating the anxiety that may keep them up late at night.


  • Erica Komisar

    Erica Komisar, LCSW is a psychoanalyst, parent guidance expert and author of Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters and Chicken Little The Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety.