Why is your teen so tired?
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 4, 2020.
Teens are notorious for wanting to stay up late and sleep in late. Find out what's behind this behavior and how you can help your teen get better sleep — starting tonight.
A teen's internal clock
Everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite and hormonal changes. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Puberty changes a teen's internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy and awakens.
Too little sleep
Most teens need about eight to 10 hours of sleep a night on a regular basis to maintain optimal health and daytime alertness. But few teens actually get that much sleep regularly, thanks to early classes, homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, social demands and screen time.
Regularly not getting enough sleep can have health consequences. Tired teens can find it difficult to concentrate and learn. Too little sleep can contribute to behavioral problems, moodiness and irritability. A sleep deficit also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and depression. It's also linked with an increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
Resetting the clock
If your teen isn't getting enough sleep, there are a few things you can try that might help. For example:
- Stick to a schedule. Encourage your teen to keep weekday and weekend bedtimes and wake times within one hour of each other. Sleeping in on the weekends makes it more likely that your teen will have trouble falling asleep at night.
- Avoid long naps. If your teen is drowsy during the day, a midafternoon nap of no more than 30 minutes might help. But if your teen has trouble falling asleep at night, napping can worsen the problem.
- Be active. Exercise may help your teen fall asleep at night and sleep more deeply.
- Get outside. Regular exposure to sunlight can help keep your teen's internal clock on track.
- Curb the caffeine. Encourage your teen to avoid caffeine after 3 p.m. Caffeine can interfere with a good night's sleep.
- Avoid heavy eating shortly before bedtime. If your teen is hungry, a light snack before bedtime is best.
- Know when to unplug. Have your teen put away all screen-based devices in the half-hour before bedtime. Youth screen time is linked with delayed bedtimes and less total sleep time. Screen-based light also can increase your teen's alertness and decrease sleepiness before bedtime. To prevent the devices from waking up your teen in the middle of the night, keep them out of your teen's bedroom.
- Keep it calm. Encourage your teen to wind down 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime by taking a warm shower, reading a book or listening to calm music.
Don't allow your teen to use sleeping pills or nonprescription sleep aids unless they are recommended by a doctor. Some sleep medications can be dangerous, and sleep problems often return when medication use stops.
Is it something else?
Children with certain health conditions, such as asthma, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders, are more vulnerable to sleep problems. Sleep problems can also be caused by:
- Medication side effects. Many medications, such as stimulants and daytime sedating drugs, can cause sleep problems. Some medications, such as corticosteroids, can disrupt sleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnea. This condition happens when the muscles that support soft tissues in the throat temporarily relax. This causes the airway to narrow or close and momentarily cut off breathing. If your teen has obstructive sleep apnea, you might notice him or her snorting, choking or gasping during sleep.
- Narcolepsy. Sudden daytime sleep, usually for only short periods of time, can be a sign of narcolepsy. Narcoleptic episodes can occur at any time — even in the middle of a conversation. Sudden attacks of muscle weakness in response to emotions such as laughter, anger or surprise are possible, too.
If you're concerned about your teen's daytime sleepiness or sleep habits, talk to his or her doctor.