We gave you the chance to ask our resident sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock, some questions about kids and teen sleep habits via our Instagram page. Many of you jumped at the chance to get an expert point of view on certain aspects of teen sleep. Here, Dr Sophie addresses some of your questions and concerns to help give a greater understanding into children and sleep.
Why do teenagers sleep so much?
It’s a key time for growth and repair, learning and memory, and the development of the brain. Most teens need at least 8 hours of sleep every night, but some will need 10 or more - especially if they are younger, or very physically active. Parents often think their teens sleep excessively at the weekends, but this is likely to be a sign that they are sleep deprived during the week. Experiment with bringing bedtime earlier by 30-60 minutes for 2 weeks, and see what difference it makes.
How do we get teens up in the morning?
As I covered in my article, Teenagers and Sleep, Why are They so Tired and Why Does it Matter? teens’ body clocks are delayed relative to most adults, so they often struggle to wake up for school. The challenge is even greater if they are sleep deprived. The key is consistency - aim for the same wake up time, within an hour, 7 days a week. Switch on bright lights as soon as it is time to wake up, and ideally, encourage them to get outside into natural daylight within an hour of waking. Eating breakfast within the first two hours of waking also sends an alerting signal to the body clock. At least one hour before bedtime, dim the lights, and banish screens from the bedroom.
Is there anything we can do about teenagers napping during the day because they are awake until the early hours of the morning?
If you can’t get sufficient sleep at night, napping can actually be a very productive strategy. It can improve learning, mood and concentration. However, if it’s happening regularly, it may be a sign of sleep debt. All the steps described above (1-4) could be helpful here. Don’t be afraid to try and implement a set bedtime - just be prepared to model the same behaviour! As we mention above, teens with a parent-led bedtime, and parental rules about switching off technology, tend to have earlier bedtimes and longer sleep ( Pillion 2022). If they are left to their own devices. Their biology will tell them to go to bed later and later.
My son is 14 and has autism and is struggling to get to sleep
He can be awake until 1am and then struggles to wake for school the next day.
Children and teenagers with autism, and autistic traits, are more vulnerable to sleep problems. The type of sleep problems often differs with age; younger children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to show bedtime anxiety, awakenings during the night, and parasomnias (such as sleep walking, sleep talking, and nightmares). Older children are more likely to report insomnia symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Behavioural approaches such as the advice in this article are recommended as the first line approach. If you feel as though you’re following the advice and your son is still struggling with sleep, speak to your GP. It may be that a combination of behavioural therapy and prescription sleep aids, such as melatonin, may be helpful.
My 8 year old just can't switch off, it takes ages to get to sleep and he's tired
The number one recommendation to help children sleep well is a structured bedtime routine. This should be designed to slowly bring energy levels down - such as with quiet play, followed by a warm bath and brushing teeth, and then reading or listening to calming music in bed. You might already be doing all this! Most 8 year-olds will need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. It’s always harder to switch off when you’re over tired, so perhaps experiment with moving the bedtime routine earlier?
Alternatively, it might be that your son is already exhibiting more teenage tendencies to have a later body clock (chronotype). You’ll know if this is the case if he’s also struggling to wake up without an alarm clock for school.
Another possibility is that your son is struggling with worries or anxieties, which might be about sleep, or school, or something else going on. It’s a good idea to ask about worries during the day time, rather than last thing at night. See if there are any practical steps you can take to address his concerns. It might be that he would benefit from more time to practice relaxation before bed, either with some mindful breathing exercises, or calming music and perhaps some gentle massage. Some children find a weighted blanket can be reassuring before bedtime.