Teen sleep: Why is your teen so tired?

Teen sleep cycles might seem to come from another world. Understand why teen sleep is a challenge — and what you can do to promote better teen sleep. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Teens are notorious for staying up late and being hard to awaken in the morning. If your teen is no exception, it's not necessarily because he or she is pushing the limits or fighting the rules. This behavior pattern actually has a physical cause. Still, there are steps you can take to 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. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen's internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy — often until 11 p.m. or later. Staying up late to study or socialize can disrupt a teen's internal clock even more.

Too little sleep

Most teens need about nine hours of sleep a night — and sometimes more — to maintain optimal daytime alertness. But few teens actually get that much sleep regularly, thanks to factors such as part-time jobs, early-morning classes, homework, extracurricular activities, social demands, and use of computers and other electronic gadgets. More than 90 percent of teens in a recent study published in the Journal of School Health reported sleeping less than the recommended nine hours a night. In the same study, 10 percent of teens reported sleeping less than six hours a night.

Although this might seem like no big deal, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. Tired teens can find it difficult to concentrate and learn, or even stay awake in class. Too little sleep also might contribute to mood swings and behavioral problems. Another major concern is drowsy driving, which can lead to serious — even deadly — accidents.

Mar. 20, 2013 See more In-depth