Frustrated that your teenager seems to spend more time under the covers than out of them? Teenagers often get bad press for oversleeping and staying in bed past noon, and this can be a common cause of family conflict. However, maybe you should leave them to doze.

Read on to find out why adequate sleep is vital during adolescence and how you can ensure your teen gets a good night’s rest.

The sleep cycle

Let’s begin by looking at the sleep cycle: what happens at each stage and why is it so important?

The sleep cycle is made up of four stages. The first three stages form non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fourth forms rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During a typical night’s sleep, you’ll cycle through each of these stages numerous times.

Stages of the sleep cycle

  • Stage 1: The lightest stage of sleep, typically lasting a few minutes. As you start to drop off, your mind and body begin to unwind. Your heart rate, breathing, and eye movements slow down, and your muscles relax.
  • Stage 2: A lighter sleep stage during which you become less aware of your surroundings, but can still be easily awakened. This stage generally lasts 10 to 25 minutes. Your heart rate and breathing continue to slow. Your eye movements stop and your core body temperature falls.
  • Stage 3: The deepest stage of sleep, typically lasting 20 to 40 minutes. During this stage, the body is fully relaxed and undergoes physical repair. This stage is crucial for keeping the immune system healthy and ensuring you wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Memory consolidation also takes place.
  • Stage 4: REM sleep can last a few minutes to an hour. In this stage, your brain is most active. Your heart rate and breathing increase, and eye movements become more rapid. This stage is vital for the processing and storage of memories and emotions. Most dreaming occurs during this stage.

Why is sleep so important for teenagers?

Looking at the stages of the sleep cycle, it’s clear that sleep plays a crucial role in both physical and mental rejuvenation. Sleep is especially important for teenagers as they are undergoing profound developmental and emotional changes.

Quality sleep in teens promotes:

  • Good mental and emotional health
  • Mood regulation and maintenance of healthy relationships
  • Maintenance of healthy habits
  • Better physical health and a stronger immune system
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Greater academic performance
  • Better decision-making

With the onset of physical changes during puberty, the trials and tribulations of teenage friendships, and the pressures of school examinations, your teen already has a lot to contend with. A poor sleep routine on top of this will exacerbate any problems your teen is already facing and inevitably cause them to struggle.

A tired teenage boy eating breakfast.

How much sleep should your teenager get?

The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 is 8 to 10 hours per night, although some will require more or less than others.

However, many teens fall short of this, for any one of a number of reasons:

  • Time demands such as pressure to complete homework and revision
  • Worries related to friendships, relationships, or home life
  • Use of electronic devices and social media late into the evening
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Sleep disorders e.g. insomnia, sleep apnoea
  • Mental health conditions e.g. anxiety, depression
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions e.g. ADHD, ASD

How can you help improve your teenager’s sleep?

If your teenager is to get a great night’s sleep, then they need to develop good sleep habits. Try out the following tips to help your teen establish a consistent sleep routine:

  • Encourage them to head to bed at the same time each night. Help them to develop a sleep ritual that will allow them to wind down before bed. They could try taking a shower, running a bubble bath, reading a book, listening to a podcast, or writing in a journal.
  • Reduce evening screen time. Electronic devices emit blue light which can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that prepares the body for sleep.
  • Encourage your teen to swap caffeine for a herbal tea in the late afternoon and evening. Research shows that drinking caffeine as early as six hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep.
  • Create a safe, comfortable, and quiet sleep environment.
  • Promote regular exercise and healthy eating habits.
  • Help your teen to stay organised and keep on top of their workload. The last thing they need before settling down is to remember that they have a two page essay due the next day!

It’s entirely natural (and necessary!) for teenagers to spend more time in bed than the average adult. However, if you’ve tried out these tips and are still concerned that your teen’s sleeping habits are having a significant impact on their day-to-day life, reach out to their GP for additional advice and support.

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Molly Wood

Molly is a recent first-class graduate from the University of St Andrews, where she studied biology. As Project Manager at PMT Education, she oversees SEO, digital content, and media management.