Teen Sleep: How To Support Optimal Behaviors

Posted on January 1st, 2015

Peter C. Contini, M.D., F.A.A.P.PediatricianAlmaden Pediatrics

According to the American Sleep Disorders Association, the average teenager needs around 10 hours of sleep per night, yet studies show that teenagers generally get an average of only 7.5 hours a night. We all know that teens can be a bit crabby, short tempered and unreasonable. But add chronic sleep deprivation and your ornery teenager can be down right unbearable. In addition, sleep deprivation in teens has been linked to poor school performance, depression and poor weight control. So it is as important as ever that your teen get a reasonable amount of sleep on a daily basis. This can be hard to achieve given their busy social schedule, heavy homework load, and after school activities. Mom and Dad: this is why it is important that you take an active role in your teenagers’ sleep habits.

Develop A Bedtime Routine

Developing a bedtime routine for your teen can be tricky, because it is very likely you are tucked snuggly in bed and sound asleep before your teen is ready to turn in. Nevertheless, teens should have a routine that occurs at roughly the same time each night and starts 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

1. Start by turning off all screens. Whether it is the computer, TV or cell phone, we know that screens keep the brain awake. Several studies have shown that screen time just before bed inhibits one’s ability to fall asleep and reduces the quality of sleep. Be sure to check call and text activity on your teen’s cell phone as many teens will text late in to the night. Set a “screen curfew” and stick to it even when it is difficult.

2. Ease the transition. Showering, light reading, listening to music, and other quiet activities provide a good transition. These things help the brain wind down and fall asleep more easily and quickly.

3. Avoid caffeine. This may be obvious to you and me, but it is certainly not obvious to most teenagers. Any caffeine after about noon can make it difficult to fall asleep in the evening. Remember that many soft drinks and just about anything you get at Starbucks is caffeinated.

What About Weekends?

Weekends can be a good time to let your teen catch up on their sleep. However, this should be achieved by going to bed at a reasonable time and sleeping in a little, but not excessively. Teens who commonly go to bed excessively late (2 or 3am) and are sleeping in excessively (to 12-1pm) on the weekend are creating a cycle for themselves which will make it near impossible for them to get to bed at a reasonable hour on Sunday night, thereby guaranteeing your teenager will start the week off sleep deprived. So while it is okay to loosen the reigns a little on the weekends, you still need to enforce a “lights out” policy at night and an “up an at ‘em” policy in the morning. My weekend rule of thumb is that a teenager should go to bed no later than 11pm (maybe midnight) and should not sleep in past 10am.

What About The Hard To Arouse Teen?

If your teenager is particularly difficult to rouse in the morning on weekends or weekdays, try this trick: Open the bedroom blinds about 30-60 minutes prior to when you would like them to wake up. The exposure to ambient daylight is an important trigger to the hormones that help wake up the mind and body. This can help get your teen to wake up when it is time.

In many ways, being a teenager is like being a toddler. They can be simultaneously unbearable and loving. They want their independence but still need your help with so many things. And they need their sleep. So, while this issue can be easy to overlook, it is important that you routinely monitor and actively regulate this aspect of their life.


Does your teen have sleep issues?

What strategies have you tried to improve his / her quantity and quality of sleep, while maintaining a good balance in his or her waking life?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

* * * * * *


Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.

7 thoughts on “Teen Sleep: How To Support Optimal Behaviors

  1. Kris

    Unfortunately this advice doesn’t take teens’ reality into account. 30-60 minutes of ambient light? My teens need to be out of bed before morning light appears to get to school on time. 60 minutes of light reading and no screen time before bed? My teens are frequently working on homework up until bedtime and their textbooks are electronic. I know sleep is important but I don’t know that we have as much control over it as this article implies.

    1. Lindsay Smith

      That is a really good point Kris! It seems like it would definitely take a shift in how many teens currently do things for them to be able to be off screens for 30 minutes before bed, especially with the heavy homework loads. With some teens it seems like if they get more sleep, then they are more efficient when doing their homework. Additionally, if they stay off social media, You Tube, etc. while they are doing their homework, they are able to be more focused and get it done quicker. I encourage them to do homework with no distractions for a set period of time (example 30 minutes) and then take a break for a set period of time (example 10 minutes) and text or go on social media sites or whatever and then repeat that cycle until they complete their homework. They are typically able to be much more focused and get their work done much faster if they’re willing to implement a strategy like this. And so I think you are right, in order for them to be able to implement some of these sleep strategies, they may have to make some shifts in other areas.

    2. drpetepeds

      These recommendations are really for teens who struggle with sleep hygiene. Some teens have a very difficult time winding down at night, others, (like my teen) fall asleep rather easily despite the computer work. If your teen does not have a problem falling asleep, then the recommendations are probably not necessary. But, if the teen does have that difficulty, one needs to consider making some changes to the night time routine, even it does not seem practical… at first. Likewise, if waking in the morning is not a major issue then nothing to worry about. But if the waking is a major issue then some changes need to be considered. Ambient light can also be achieved by turning on the light in their room. There is even a new “alarm clock” that shines a light progressively brighter to help people transition out of sleep.

      Also, my own observation is that High School athletes rarely have sleep issues while they are in season. Probably because of their daily physical activity. So chalk one up for daily exercise!

  2. Lindsay Smith

    It can be so hard to encourage teens to get enough sleep and so these tips are really valuable – thank you! I especially like the tip for the difficult to rouse teens about opening the bedroom blinds 30-60 minutes before we them to wake up. I also really like the idea of having a bedtime routine, as I think if the teens are able to get into a habit around it, it becomes easier.

  3. Carol Satterlee

    I actually thought many adults could benefit from this article on sleep hygiene! I agree with Kris below how difficult it is to implement these suggestions into “reality”. However, I totally see how parents of preteens (middle schoolers) can certainly get a jump on these healthy sleep habits as they have a bit more say with their kids at this age. However, by the times kids are sophomore onward, clearly a bit more challenging as they can use the excuse of homework as why they MUST stay up so late. Sometimes it will require a teen to get to a “sleep problem” that perhaps then they themselves will be motivated to implement these suggestions on their own.

    Overall, I’m a big proponent that if kids are physically active on a regular basis, this can be the best natural sleep aide. And again, goes for adults too!

  4. Laura

    Thank you for the suggestions. Any tips for helping a pre-teen who goes to sleep at a reasonable hour, but then wakes up once or twice an night anxious and scared? The lack of continuous sleep definitely impacts his behavior and ability to focus on school work the next day.

    1. Lindsay Smith

      Sometimes meditation or calming visualizations/guided imagery before bed can calm the mind and make it less likely that he will wake up during the night. If he does wake up, then using these skills again can help him fall back asleep. A therapist can help teach these skills, but there are also CDs that you can purchase on Amazon (and probably many other places) that can also walk you through these skills.

Comments are closed.