How do teenagers sleep?

How do teenagers sleep?

Read time: 6 minutes

What’s inside?

  • So, how many sleep stages are there?
  • How do your sleep needs change as you go through life?
  • How can we help teenagers through sleep changes?


Sleep is a critically important part of health at every age, but our individual sleep needs and patterns can vary significantly from childhood through the teenage years and into full-blown – pay the bills - adulthood.

First, let’s dig into the different sleep stages we pass through and get a closer look at how these impact teenagers in particular.

So, how many sleep stages are there?

Sleep isn't just a block of time when your body shuts off. Instead, it consists of several stages that cycle throughout the night, characterised by different types of brain waves and bodily activities. These stages are broadly categorised into two types: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep, which includes three phases itself:

  1. Non-REM Stage 1: You know that jerky nodding-off thing you experience when sitting in front of the TV or during a long drive when you haven’t taken that break you should have? This is that. The lightest stage of sleep, lasting several minutes, it’s the initial transition from wakeyness to sleep. During this stage, the body begins to relax, although sleep is light and you can be easily woken up.
  2. Non-REM Stage 2: This is where your body really starts to slow down… except your brain waves. They can go a bit haywire here, in a good way though. Sleep spindles, or short bursts of brain activity are common at this stage and are hugely beneficial for cementing memory. Combined with lowering of both heart rate & body temperature this stage works in tandem with REM to help anything you’ve been reading before nodding-off get absorbed into your knowledge banks. This is good news for teenagers who choose to do some light study before bed.
  3. Non-REM Stage 3: Often referred to as deep sleep or slow-wave sleep, this stage is crucial for physical recovery and growth. It is during this stage that the body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, and boosts immune function. So, if you are feeling unwell, this is where your body does it’s best to fix you.
  4. REM Sleep: This is where your dreams really take hold. REM sleep features the rapid movement of the eyes, increased breathing, and brain activity. Most dreaming occurs during this stage. Along with Stage 2 Non-REM sleep, REM sleep has been linked to important functions such as memory consolidation and emotional regulation. You’re dreams allow you to experience things that may not have happened to you so you’re ready for them when they appear in your life.


How do your sleep needs change as you go through life?

Firstly, there are no set hours for any one individual. We are all different, although – genetic anomalies aside – we all need to be closer to the 8 hours sleep each night than 4 hours. Here’s a closer look at what that means…


Children typically require more sleep than adults as sleep directly supports their developmental needs. Children spend more time in deep Non-REM sleep, which is crucial for growth and development. A preschooler might need between 10-13 hours of sleep, while school-aged children are likely to need somewhere around 9-11 hours. Yep, at this life-stage sleeping half of the day away is a good thing.


So, getting to the meat of our sandwich…

During the teenage years, sleep patterns undergo significant changes that are often influenced by both biological and social factors. Puberty introduces shifts in a teen's internal clock, pushing them towards later sleep and wake times. This shift can conflict with early school start times and lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

Differences in Teen Sleep:

  • Delayed Sleep Phase: Many teens experience a natural shift in their circadian rhythms, making them feel more alert later at night and sleepy later in the morning.
  • Increased REM Sleep: Teenagers spend a larger proportion of their sleep cycle in REM sleep compared to children and adults. This increase is linked to the brain development happening during these years.


The combination of an altered sleep schedule and lifestyle, including exam pressures, can severely impact the quality and quantity of sleep a teenager gets.


Change doesn’t stop just coz you reach adulthood though.

Adults generally need about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. As adults age, we often experience a decrease in deep sleep and an increase in the fragmentation of sleep, including more frequent awakenings during the night.


How can we help teenagers through sleep changes?

Parents and carers can play a crucial role in helping teenagers navigate these challenging changes in their sleep patterns.

Strategies include:

  • Encouraging Consistency: Help teens keep a consistent bedtime and wake time that allows for adequate sleep, even on weekends.
  • Creating a Positive Sleep Environment: Make sure the sleep environment is conducive to rest. This includes a comfortable mattress and pillows, reducing noise, and dimming lights well before bedtime.
  • Promoting Relaxation: Encourage activities that reduce stress and promote relaxation before bedtime, such as reading, taking a bath, or listening to calming music.
  • Open Communication: Discussing the importance of sleep and any concerns or potential anxieties, which can be especially high around exam time, with your teenager can be a great way to help them relax into strong sleep patterns. Understanding why good sleep is necessary may help them make better sleep choices on their own too.


So… as teenagers transition into adulthood, supporting their sleep is crucial for their overall health and well-being. By understanding the sleep needs unique to this developmental stage and actively helping teens to meet these needs, parents can provide invaluable support through these transformative years.

And, if you treat your teenage children well enough to help them get good sleep, maybe they won’t put you in an old-folks home when the time comes for them to make the rules.

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