Q: My teen alternates between not getting enough sleep or over sleeping! What's going on and how can I get her to sleep more?
A: Teens need between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, most kids don’t sleep enough or maintain a regular sleep schedule. Why? The levels of melatonin, the hormone produced by the brain which makes us sleepy, typically increases later at night and decreases later in the morning among teens as compared to younger children or adults. Adults for example, get a surge of melatonin around 8:30pm , while for most teens it happens closer to 11 pm. As a result, waking up at 7:00 am for a teen may be like an adult getting up at 4:00 am. This may be why so many teens struggle with getting up in the morning or try to sleep in when they can. Of course, late night use of computers, phones, video games and social media doesn’t help.
Best ways to help teens with sleep are to try to minimize late night screen time and caffeine use, and to stick to a regular sleep schedule. With many of my teen patients who are used to staying up late, I try to get them to start sleeping even a few minutes earlier every night to reset their clock. Policies like delaying high school start times has also been proven to be helpful.
Bottom line, teens have different sleep cycles. In addition, caffeine or use of electronics may significantly impact their sleep. Given the significant medical and psychological benefits of sleep, we need to support teens in optimizing their zzz’s.