How Much Sleep Do Teens Really Need?

Many teens struggle to adjust to back-to-school sleep schedules, which may have serious effects on their brains and bodies. 

Sleep specialist Kent Svee, MD, of Fairview Sleep Centers says good sleep is critical to physical and emotional health, but teens often aren’t getting the quality or quantity of sleep they need.

“Sleep is important for emotional health, academics and athletic performance,” says Svee. “It improves our brain’s efficiency and accuracy, and also our social competence.”

Healthy sleep range

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently released for the first time its recommendations for how much sleep children and teens should get. Their guidelines state that teenagers 13 to 18 years old should sleep eight to 10 hours per day to promote optimal health.

While 10 hours may seems like a lot of sleep, sufficient sleep is necessary to help support adolescent growth and development, heal and repair the body, maintain healthy hormone levels and improve learning skills. 

Sleeping fewer than the recommended number of hours, on the other hand, is associated with attention and behavior problems, obesity, diabetes and depression. In teenagers, insufficient sleep also correlates with increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, according to AASM.

Recognizing the signs

Parents may not always be aware when their teen is not getting enough sleep. Many patterns and behaviors that may appear normal are actually signs of sleep deficiency.

“If your teen has a regular wake-up time and never wakes up before the alarm clock goes off, they are probably sleep-deprived,” says Svee. “If they really struggle to stay awake in the middle of the afternoon, they are probably sleep-deprived.”

Healthy habits

To make sure teens are developing healthy sleeping patterns, Svee says parents should limit the use of electronics close to bedtime. The light from gadgets such as cell phones, tablets and TVs can fool the brain into thinking it is daytime, which leads to difficulty falling asleep.

During the school year, Svee recommends that parents get teens up early on the weekends so they’re able to continue the schedule they have during the week.

“Sleeping in on the weekend is an easy way to ‘catch up,’ but it helps perpetuate the problem of later bedtimes all week long,” he says.

If teens need more sleep, parents should encourage them to go to bed earlier, rather than wake up later.

“There is really no such thing as ‘too much sleep,’” he says.

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