Is Your Teen a Night Owl? Why it’s Wreaking Havoc in their Life and How to Help Them Get More Zzzzs

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Is Your Teen a Night Owl? It’s Wreaking Havoc in Their Life – Help Them Get More Zzzzs

Written by: Marybeth Bock

What if those challenging teen behaviors we often dismiss as “normal teen angst” – the sassiness, mood swings, impulsive behavior, inability to stay focused, anxiety and the desire to sleep until noon every weekend, have far more to do with sleep deprivation than the mere fact that our kids are teenagers?

The harsh reality is 58 percent of middle schoolers and upwards of 73 percent of high schoolers are going about their days massively sleep-deprived. And, it’s wreaking havoc in their lives.

Is Your Teen a Night Owl? Why it’s Wreaking Havoc in Their Life and How to Help Them Get More Zzzzs

What makes it particularly challenging is that it’s not necessarily your teen’s fault (or yours).

If your teen is staying up so late they’re now tucking you in at night, you’re not alone.

According to one mom we spoke with, “It’s not unusual for my daughter to be up past midnight (sometimes later) on school nights. Despite my attempts to get her to turn off her lights and go to bed, she insists she’s just not tired or claims she has far too much homework. Then, when her alarm goes off in the morning, she can barely lift her head off the pillow.”

According to Dr. Michael Crocetti, M.D., MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, “teens need nine to nine and a half hours of sleep per night.” Most don’t get anywhere near that.

Teenagers’ natural shift in their bodies’ circadian rhythm, early school start times, and demanding school and extracurricular schedules (not to mention the lure of staying up late scrolling on their phone) combine to work against our kids’ need to get the necessary amount of sleep they need to function effectively.

For parents of teenagers, particularly those with kids who are maxed out trying to “do it all” in high school, that usually fosters plenty of frustration and resignation of the fact that their child will continually be sleep deprived.

 Why Does Your Teen Need That Much Sleep?

“Teenagers are going through a second developmental stage of cognitive maturation,” says Dr. Crocetti. In fact, they require more sleep than a ten-year-old. That added sleep time helps support their developing brains, as well as the physical growth their entire bodies are experiencing.

You might think that the only negative outcome of sleep deprivation is a teen who is cranky or moody. But getting adequate sleep also helps protect teens from a myriad of negative consequences.

Stanford Medicine states that sleep deprivation among teenagers is an epidemic and that insufficient sleep increases the likelihood that teens will suffer from an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy driving incidents, anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. 

Further research studies from the Journal Sleep Medicine Reviews (Aug 2020) show that a lack of sleep in teenagers is associated with a 55% increase in the likelihood of mood deficits such as anger, depression, and anxiety.

And, according to the Child Mind Institute, teens who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are “also more likely to engage in unprotected sex and reckless driving than teens who get seven or more hours of sleep a night, because they lack impulse control and suffer from impaired judgment that leads to poor decision-making.”

It’s not surprising then that many teens turn to stimulants like caffeine-infused beverages and nicotine-filled vape products or cigarettes to help them stay awake during the day –  all of which can lead to a vicious cycle of being too amped up at night and unable to fall asleep.

How Can You Help Your Teen Get More Sleep?

It often feels like school district mandates and society at large are conspiring against our efforts to protect our kids’ sleep schedules. And, our teen’s infatuation with electronics and social media certainly isn’t helping. It’s up to us to be strong advocates for our children and their physical and mental health.

 Here are a few tips to help your teen catch a few more Zzzzs:

 #1 Make Sleep a Priority

When you’re a teenager, you’re not thinking about how much sleep you’re getting (or not getting) and how that lack of sleep is impacting your life. That’s why we need to educate our kids and encourage them to make sleep a priority. If the afternoon sport, club, or part-time job has them up until 1 a.m. doing homework, suggest that they get some schoolwork done during lunchtime or while on the bus to school or a game. Hacks like always having flashcards with them to look at during short breaks throughout their day can result in less study time at night.

#2 Model and Encourage Healthy Sleep Habits

It’s been said that kids learn what they live. If your teen sees you modeling and talking about the importance of good sleep habits, there’s a far better chance they will also. Talk about how they feel after getting a good night’s sleep, versus a crummy night’s sleep.

Encourage them to exercise regularly, cut caffeine intake by midday, and (at the very least) try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Also, encourage them to get into a nighttime “wind-down” routine of listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath, drinking a cup of tea, or anything else that helps them relax. 

#3 Nix Screen Time (at Least) an Hour Before Bedtime

Not only do our kids use electronics to tackle homework, they also use them to chill out after a long day of being “on.” So, while it’s important to limit electronics and screen time, (screen time is linked to insomnia symptoms in teenagers since it delays the release of melatonin), it can be downright challenging for some parents.

Rather than setting hardcore limits (which certainly might work for some parents/teens), try nixing screen time at least an hour before bedtime which experts agree lays the foundation for more restful sleep.

#4 Limit Caffeine

Teens are notorious for chugging caffeine-packed drinks to stay alert and focused, but experts agree, all that caffeine is doing them far more harm than good – especially when consumed later in the day. While it might be tricky to get your teen to give up caffeine altogether, encourage them to avoid any drinks with caffeine after lunch to ensure a better night’s rest.

#5 Establish an “Entertainment-Free” Study Space

For a lot of teens, homework is often one of the primary culprits for keeping them up at night. To cut down on homework time and help your teen stay focused, create an entertainment-free study space. If your teen needs a screen for homework, use apps or parental controls to limit social media and gaming to avoid the constant distractions that can extend homework time exponentially.

#6 Link Sleep Time to Privileges

An exhausted, sleep-deprived teen shouldn’t be driving a car, so they might have to go without. A moody, drowsy teen shouldn’t be hanging out late with friends on the weekend, so an earlier curfew might be necessary. Once your teen realizes that their sleep deprivation could potentially impact their freedom, they may be more likely to hit the sack a little earlier.

#7 Encourage Short Power Naps

Rather than sleeping in later in the morning or playing “catch up” on weekends, encourage your teen to grab a 20-minute power nap on weekends or when they get home from school before they tackle their homework. Well-timed, short naps are much less disruptive to their sleep cycle than long naps. (The trick is to keep them short!)

#8 Advocate for Later School Start Times

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools should not start classes before 8:30 am. If your local school board hasn’t addressed this subject, join fellow, concerned parents to bring this recommendation to the forefront.

#9 Talk Openly About Overscheduling and Burnout

For so many teenagers, pushing yourself to the absolute limit is just the way it is. Everyone does it to get ahead – to join one more club, to squeeze in that internship, to study a little harder for the ACT or SAT test. The pressure to do well, to score well, to get into college, to try a little harder, is not only exhausting for teenagers, but it also robs them of the sleep they need and puts unnecessary strain on their physical and mental health and overall well-being.  

Rather than making sleep an afterthought, talk openly with your teen about how they feel. Are they exhausted? Burned out? Completely overwhelmed?  If so, it might be time to shift their academic year goals.

#10 Schedule a Wellness Visit with Your Teen’s Doctor

If your child hasn’t had a wellness visit with their health professional lately, schedule an appointment. Talk to your teen’s doctor about how much sleep your teen is getting, how it might be affecting their performance at school, and how it could be altering their ability to keep up, focus, and cope. Hearing the information directly from a health professional might be just what your teen needs to fully grasp the effects of sleep deprivation. (Plus, sometimes an underlying health issue such as depression or sleep apnea could be a factor.)


  • The Relationship Between Sleep Duration and Mood in Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Sleep Medicine Reviews, Volume 52, 2020.
  • AAP News: 73% of High School Students Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
  • Sleep Foundation: Does Screen Time Trigger Insomnia in Teenagers?

About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed, “Is Your Teen a Night Owl? Why it’s Wreaking Havoc in Their Life and How to Help Them Get More Zzzzs,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

Teen Mental Health: Red Flags Every Parent Should Watch For

10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Teen’s Brain

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