My Teenager Sleeps All Day: Is It Normal?
At a lot of high schools, classes begin around 7:30 in the morning. Your teen may complain that that’s too early, and that this schedule keeps them from getting enough sleep.
Guess what? Sleep experts agree.
Although teens need the same amount of sleep as the rest of us, at some point during adolescence the circadian rhythm changes. As a result, the ideal teen sleep cycle looks a bit different than that of younger children, or even of adults.
And that can cause problems for your teen.
The Teen Body Clock
The stereotype of the teenager is a night owl — someone who stays up all night and sleeps all day. This can clash with school start times, and with parents’ expectations.
But your teen isn’t being lazy. Their sleep patterns are changing.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people in their teen years need between eight and ten hours of sleep per night, just like the rest of us. But they start that sleep later at night.
Problems may develop when teen sleep habits meet an adult-defined schedule of activities, leading to a lack of sleep.
Daytime sleepiness is one thing, but a continuous lack of sleep can affect mental health, physical health, academic performance, and more.
And there’s always a possibility that there’s more to your teen’s late nights than this natural change.
Teens and Sleep Problems
If your teen seems to be suffering from sleep deprivation, there could be three main causes:
- The natural change in circadian rhythm
- Lifestyle factors
- Sleep disorders
In any case, it’s important to get to the bottom of it so that your teen gets the sleep they need.
Lifestyle, Behavior, and Sleep
Your teen’s body may be telling them to stay up all night, but let’s face it, staying up is fun. And life is full of amusing distractions, such as video games and social media.
In a recent survey, 90 percent of Americans, teenaged and otherwise, reported using electronic devices within half an hour of attempting to sleep.
Unfortunately, electronic devices emit blue light, which can affect sleep cycles.
Our body clocks are regulated by light and darkness. Blue light has the largest impact on the body clock, as it stimulates the part of the brain that makes us feel alert. It also suppresses melatonin, the chemical that tells the body that it’s time to sleep.
If your teen or child’s sleep isn’t what it should be, electronics too close to bedtime could be the cause.
Energy drinks could be another culprit. According to one study, one third of people aged 12 to 17 use energy drinks.
The “energy” comes from large doses of caffeine and, often, sugar. Energy drinks have been tied to numerous ill health effects, including insomnia, sleep cycle disruption, anxiety, obesity, digestive problems, and more.
Unfortunately, in many places, these drinks aren’t age restricted. But if your child is having sleep problems, let them know that energy drinks may be part of those problems.
It’s also possible that your child’s lack of sleep may come down to a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, or narcolepsy.
If you’ve ruled out lifestyle as a cause of your teen’s sleep loss, your pediatrician or a pediatric sleep specialist can help you to determine if sleep disorders may be at the root of the problem.
How You Can Help Teens Get More Sleep
A study from the Centers for Disease Control showed that a later start time for teens results in better outcomes for academic performance, health, and mood. It also reduced risky behaviors such as substance use, and lowered both the drop-out rate and the juvenile crime rate.
And that morning before-school dropoff nightmare? Staggering school start times improved that, too.
Advocating for a change in your district’s school day is one way to help, but that can take a long time. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for your own household.
Set a Schedule
Talk to your teen about their sleep schedule. Consider a compromise: if they can keep a reasonable weekday sleep time schedule, allow them to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends.
Discuss Lifestyle Factors
Explain the effects of screen time and energy drinks on sleep. Work with your teen to limit both of these within two to three hours of their agreed bedtime.
Also, consider your teen’s commitments. Are extracurricular activities, or a part-time job interfering with your teenager’s sleep? Is your teen’s time stretched too thin? Is overcommitment causing them stress?
If so, then work with your teen to establish a routine that works better for their needs.
Speak to Your Child’s Pediatrician
If you suspect your child has a medical sleep disorder, your child’s doctor can point you in the right direction to get some help.
The closer our children get to adulthood, the less we can do to solve their problems. Fortunately, with a bit of education and guidance, we can help them to improve their sleep habits.