Why Teens Can’t Wake Up On Time

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Parents of teens likely know the cliche of the sleeping teenager: they sleep till noon (or longer), and when it’s time to wake up for school, they’re like a slow-moving tornado — tough to wake up and frenzied because they’re probably late getting out of the door. Many factors cause teens to experience difficulty with sleep, including a natural sleep phase delay and the use of electronic devices.

Teens are Biologically Wired to Sleep Late

Although screen time is a relatively new challenge to teen sleep, teenagers have always experienced difficulty with getting the sleep they need. This challenge is due to a change in their circadian rhythm that occurs around puberty.

As teens shift from children to adults, their sleeping habits change. They no longer feel sleepy early in the evening as they did when they were children. Often, teens don’t feel sleepy until about 11 p.m. This is what’s known as a sleep phase delay.

This sleep phase delay can cause difficulties when teens are in school, as they often don’t go to sleep early enough to get the hours of rest they need and still get to school on time. With many teens going to bed around 11 p.m. and needing at least nine hours of sleep each night, teens are not ready to wake up until 8 a.m., which may be too late for school start times.

As a result, teens are often chronically short on sleep, especially during the school week. They may make up their rest time with erratic sleep schedules, including extended naps during the day or sleeping in extremely late on the weekends. But these tactics don’t help in the long term because teens often return to nights of poor sleep during the week.

Teens are Sometimes Too Busy

But it’s not just biology that’s causing difficulty with teen sleep. Other factors can interfere with healthy sleep in teens, including:

 

Sleep-Deprived Teens May Have Health Issues

When teens don’t get enough sleep, they’re at risk for physical and mental health issues. Sleep deprivation is associated with a greater risk of:

  • Confusion and difficulty with concentration

  • Moodiness

  • Drowsy driving

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

Support Your Teen’s Sleep

Although chronic sleep deprivation is a fact of life for so many teens, it doesn’t have to be. Supportive parents and a commitment to healthy sleep can help teens get the rest they need to feel and perform their best:

  • Stop screen time at least one hour before bed.

  • Create a healthy sleep environment with a well-supported mattress.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine.

  • Plan refreshing early afternoon naps of 30 minutes or less.

  • Prioritize sleep over unnecessary activities.

  • Avoid sleeping in later than an hour or two on the weekends to support a regular circadian rhythm.

  • Push for later school start times, and prepare for the school day at night as much as possible to free up more time to sleep in on weekday

Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

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