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Teenagers and Sleep: How Puberty Affects Sleep Quality

We all remember our teenage years when our parents would drag us out of bed before noon on a Saturday. Why in the world did they need our help mowing the lawn at 8:00 a.m.?

Looking back, though, it’s interesting to think about the shift in sleep schedule that occurs when you become a teenager. How did we all of a sudden go from waking up at 6:00 a.m. and forcing our parents out of bed to them dragging us out of bed? Well, as children become teenagers, they go through puberty, which is affected by and affects sleep.

We’ll explain the connection between puberty and sleep so that if you’re a teen yourself or a parent or guardian of one, you’ll have a better understanding of how these two intersect and impact one another.

How Does Puberty Affect Sleep?

Puberty is a time in a person’s life when their body and hormones begin to change[1], which leads them into adulthood. Teenagers begin maturing sexually and emotionally during this time. Puberty normally begins around age 10 or 11 for females, and a few years later for males.

Changes in Sleep Schedule During Puberty

Biological Changes

During puberty, your sleep schedule changes due to several factors. Most importantly, a shift in your circadian rhythm occurs when you experience puberty[1]. This means that as a child your body becomes tired around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., but as a teenager, you get sleepy a couple of hours later, around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. This biological shift in the body’s clock explains why teens stay up later than younger children; their body simply isn’t tired yet.

This sudden change in the body’s clock is called “sleep phase delay”, and can be problematic for teenagers[1]. For example, your child may be used to going to bed at 9:00 p.m. and waking up at 6:00 a.m. for school, but all of a sudden they can’t fall asleep until 11:00 p.m. for the same school wake-up time. Now, your child has gotten seven hours of sleep as opposed to their usual nine hours. They can’t just wake up later for school, so they end up sleeping for fewer hours.

Changes Related to Academics

Not only is there a biological change in teenagers during puberty, but there are also factors related to school that shift and affect sleep. As mentioned before, middle school and high school start early in the morning, so if teenagers can’t fall asleep until late at night, they still have to wake up early for school, which causes sleep deprivation.

Along with an early school start time, middle and high school students begin to receive more homework, so they are studying a lot after school. Teenagers may also be playing a sport or participating in extracurriculars such as theater or band. Some high schoolers may have an after-school job so they can earn money for themselves or help to support their family.

These activities or jobs outside of school can mean that teens are having to finish up their homework later in the evening. So, even if they are tired around 10:00 p.m., chances are they still have something to accomplish before getting in bed.

Social Changes

Even though sleep is so important for your child as they go through puberty, they may begin to prioritize it less than before. As a young kid, your parents have a firm grip on your nighttime routine, but as you get older, you want more independence, not needing your parents to read you a story and tuck you in at night. Due to this new independence, teenagers might stay up later scrolling on their phones or watching television, which cuts into their hours of rest.

Kids not only value independence as they transition into their teenage years, but they may prioritize sleep less so they can stay up late on the weekends to spend time with their friends. Social stressors and peer pressure could influence your child to think sleep isn’t very important after all.

Lastly, peer pressure could also lead to unhealthy behaviors that negatively affect sleep, such as drinking alcohol or using drugs. Along with these behaviors being damaging to developing teenagers, they also disturb the sleep cycle[1].

There are many areas of teenage life and puberty that can affect your child’s sleep negatively, so make sure you talk to your child about how they get the best night’s rest.

Why is it Important to Sleep During Puberty?

There are several reasons why sleep is so important during this pivotal time. Health experts[2] emphasize that “teens need more sleep because they are in a time of very fast physical, intellectual and emotional growth.” Physical and emotional changes are exhausting for both the body and the brain, so sleep is of utmost importance.

Also, as mentioned earlier, teenagers are typically busy with homework, school, jobs, and extracurricular activities, so the need for sleep is even more important to have enough energy to juggle multiple priorities.

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How Much Sleep Do Teens Need During Puberty?

Although it varies by individual, the CDC reports that teenagers (ages 13-18) need an average of eight to 10 hours of sleep[3] per night.

You can compare teens’ need for sleep to that of adults (ages 18 and above), who typically need an average of seven hours of sleep[4] every night. Additionally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that kids ages six through 12 need about nine to 12 hours of sleep nightly[3].

Why a Lack of Sleep During Puberty is Harmful

We’ve emphasized the importance of sleep during puberty, but it is important to note what could happen if your teen is regularly sleep deprived during puberty. It has been found that 70-80 percent of teenagers sleep for less than eight hours[5] on the average night, which is below the recommended amount.

The potential side effects of not sleeping enough include:

  • Worse mental health
  • An increase in moodiness and irritability
  • Drowsy driving
  • It’s harder to focus in school, which can impact academic performance

Although a few nights of less sleep won’t stunt physical growth, sleep is really important for a growing person. When we sleep, the growth hormone is released[6], and physical growth is a major component of puberty. So, if you’re not sleeping enough during puberty, you don’t have enough time for the growth hormone to be released.

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How to Prepare Yourself for a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips can be applied to those going through puberty, or really anyone who is trying to sleep better.

  • Establish a nighttime routine – Establishing this routine will signal to your body that it’s bedtime. We also recommend doing something relaxing in your nightly routine such as meditation, yoga, or taking a warm bath to help decompress from a busy day.
  • Read instead of using a blue light device – Devices like smartphones or computers emit a blue light that can keep us up at night because it tricks our body into thinking it is daytime[7]. Conversely, reading a book relaxes the body and makes us sleepy.
  • Don’t do homework in bed – Especially for teenagers, it is important to separate where they do their homework, which they may associate with feelings of stress, from where they sleep.
  • Create a comfortable, sleep-promoting environment – A cool, dark, and quiet bedroom may calm your body and promote sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evening – During the teenage years is when people often begin drinking caffeinated beverages like soda, coffee, and energy drinks. In order to sleep well, it is important to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

Sleep Disorders in Teenagers

If your teenager is extremely tired during the day, and they are getting enough sleep, they may be experiencing a sleep disorder. The sleep disorders outlined below, plus the tiredness that comes along with puberty, may explain your teen’s daytime sleepiness.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea– According to UCLA Health, obstructive sleep apnea “occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. This keeps air from getting into the lungs[1].” When you stop breathing in your sleep, you wake up, which disrupts your sleep cycle and makes you tired.
  • Narcolepsy– Another sleep disorder that can cause daytime sleepiness is narcolepsy, which is when you randomly fall asleep during the day, at any time. The onset of this disorder is typically between the ages of 15 and 25, so it may begin during puberty[1].
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders – As mentioned earlier, teens can experience sleep phase delay due to the biological changes that occur during puberty. Sleep phase delay is a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder. In the case of sleep phase delay, it means that you are more wired to stay up later and wake up later, which is difficult for someone who needs to regularly be up early and remain alert during the day for school or work.

Other Changes That Occur During Puberty

Aside from changes in sleep, people going through puberty experience mood and hormonal changes such as emotional outbursts, along with physical changes[8]. Females experience breast development, pubic hair development, the onset of menstruation, and an increase in height. Males develop public hair, experience genital changes and voice changes, and grow in height.

Pre-Puberty and Sleep

It may be helpful to note that sleep patterns can actually predict the onset of puberty. If you’re a parent, you may be able to infer when your child is going to start experiencing changes associated with puberty because a change in their sleep schedule will typically occur before the onset of physical and emotional changes[9].

Some patterns you can look out for are a later bedtime due to lack of tiredness earlier in the night, sleeping less during the week and compensating with more sleep on the weekends, patterns of waking up in the night more than usual, and an overall increased level of tiredness. It is interesting to note that girls have been found to sleep with fewer disruptions[9] in the middle of the night compared to boys[9].

Frequently Asked Questions

About Sleep and Puberty

Does puberty affect sleep?

Yes, puberty affects sleep because during this time the circadian rhythm shifts and you become tired later in the day. This is called “sleep phase delay.” Teenagers and pre-teens begin going to sleep later because they are not tired as early in the night as they used to be.

Does a lack of sleep affect puberty?

Yes, a lack of sleep can affect puberty. If your growing pre-teen or teenager doesn’t get enough sleep, it can affect them negatively in terms of physical growth, mental health, and academic performance.

Does puberty make you want to sleep more?

Puberty may make you want to sleep more than usual because you’re changing physically and emotionally, which is exhausting for the body and the brain.

Why is sleep so important during puberty?

Sleep is really important during puberty because you are growing and changing, and you are exceptionally busy with school, work, homework, extracurricular activities, and a growing social life. In order to maintain your physical and mental health, a good night of sleep is ideal, especially during this time in life that is full of changes.

How much sleep do teenagers need during puberty?

Teenagers ages 13-18 should typically get an average of eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. Children ages six to 12 need around nine to 12 hours of sleep nightly[3].

At what age is sleep most important?

It is important to get a good night’s rest at every age. However, sleep is especially important from infancy through the teenage years because the body is growing and developing the most, and sleep is an important component of this.

Why do teens need more sleep during puberty?

Teenagers need more sleep during puberty compared to adults because they are experiencing so many physical and hormonal changes, which is tiring for the brain and the body. Also, the growth hormone is released during sleep, so it is important for a teenager to sleep enough to healthily grow.

What can parents do to help their teens sleep better?

Parents can encourage their teenagers to go to sleep earlier, to not use electronic devices before going to bed, and to avoid caffeine if it’s not the morning. They can also provide a space in their home where their child can do homework. This space will help them separate their schoolwork from relaxation more easily.

Final Thoughts

Puberty is already a stressful time for pre-teens and teenagers that is filled with emotional, physical, and schedule-based changes. Since the circadian rhythm shifts during puberty, teens end up going to bed later and getting less sleep, which isn’t ideal for busy, growing humans.

It is important for those going through puberty to get good, restful sleep in order to keep up with their ever-changing bodies and minds. If you’re a parent, educate your child on the importance of sleep during their teenage years, and if you’re approaching puberty or experiencing it, give yourself grace. Remember that your body is working hard, and it’s more than okay to rest.

References:
  1.  “Sleep and Teens”. UCLA Health. Webpage accessed June 20, 2024.
  2. “Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough”. National Library of Medicine. 2008.
  3. “Sleep in Middle and High School Students”. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified September 10, 2020.
  4. “1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep”. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified February 16, 2016.
  5. “Ask the expert: Why do teenagers need more sleep?”. MSU Today. 2024.
  6. “Can Lack of Sleep Stunt Your Growth?”. Akron Children’s. Last modified January 1, 2021.
  7. “The Color of the Light Affects the Circadian Rhythms”. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified April 1, 2020.
  8. Breehl, Logen., Caban, Omar. “Physiology, Puberty”. National Library of Medicine. Last modified March 27, 2024.
  9. Sadeh, Avi., et al. “Sleep and the Transition to Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study”. National Library of Medicine. 2009.
Emma Cronan

Emma Cronan

Writer

About Author

Emma is an Editorial Intern for Sleep Advisor. She collaborates with the editor and staff writers to come up with article ideas, create article outlines, and write for the website.

Combination Sleeper