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Teens and young adults

Sleep information in this section have been developed specifically for use with teenagers and for teenagers who have sleep problems. There is a section on those aged 16 to 25 years and specialist advice for schools about how they can help young people with sleep difficulties

Teen sleep for parents

Body clock (circadian rhythm)

When children reach puberty their body clock advances, on average about 2 hours. This means that they will naturally want to go to bed later and get up later. We need to support them to manage this in everyday life.

Sleep needs

On average, taken over a 2-week period, teens need anything between 7 and 11 hours sleep. If they are constantly tired and falling asleep during the day they may not be getting enough sleep. Try to keep the number of hours sleep even, not 7 hours 1 night and 10 the next.

Signals for sleep

Make sure the bed is comfortable to sleep on. Keep clutter to a minimum as the room should be a peaceful haven for sleeping. For a good bedtime routine encourage the hour before bed as calm time. Dim lights, remove electronics and boost participation in quiet activities like listening to podcasts, Lego, mindful colouring. Keep the room at a cool temperature but not too cool that you are uncomfortable

Electronic equipment

For example tablets, phones and computers). Encourage the whole family to put away their phones in a specific place together before bedtime. Content from electronic use before bedtime stimulates the brain and the blue light emitted from devices can reduce melatonin production. The hormone melatonin is needed to enable us to fall asleep. Use an alarm clock to wake.

Set good sleep and wake times

Research shows that teens benefit from parenting support to maintain good sleep and wake times. Wake time is the most important and ideally this needs to be generally the same time over the whole week; have a lie in of an hour at the most.

Daytime affects night time

Its true that a stressful day can affect sleep. Help teens by introducing a down time during the day, even a short time of just 10 minutes has been shown to be helpful. Some young people like to use a journal where they can write down hopes dreams and worries. Keep this to daytime and not when they are about to sleep.

For teens: Why bother?

Sleep is important for mental and physical health.

Without it we would cease to exist. It’s not possible to stay awake for long periods as the body takes over and forces us to sleep. Many road accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep. Even plants sleep and the most complex AI computers work better with periods of down time.

Sleep is important for learning too. If you are studying then try a sleep or study sandwich: get restful sleep the night before study, study during the day and then getting another night’s sleep will help you better remember the facts and ideas you are trying to learn. Sleep is like the action a computer takes when you save something and then shut it down.

Lack of sleep also doesn’t make you look your best or be your best.

The average amount of sleep required for positive health varies from person to person. Teens need between 7 and 11 hours sleep on average – everyone is different. If you are feeling tired with the amount of sleep you are getting now, you probably need to increase it.

A lack of sleep is linked to feelings of anxiety, low mood and self harm. Many young people with depression report a problem with sleep. Ask for help from someone else if your sleep is a problem for more than 3 months. Most sleep problems sort themselves out, most of the remainder can be successfully resolved too. There are apps like Sleepio for wakefulness, others like Calm, Headspace and Loona can help you relax.

For teens: Help I can’t sleep

Have I got a problem?

Sleep is so important for mental and physical health its also crucial for learning, so when you can’t sleep you may worry which will maybe add to sleep difficulty. Teens are supposed to have between 7 and 11 hours sleep, make sure it’s a regular amount of sleep, not 1 night 7 hours and 10 the next for example. If you are feeling tired and falling asleep during the day you are probably not getting enough sleep. If this continues for more than 3 months you need to ask someone for advice.

Bedtime routine

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day if possible. Try not to lay in over the weekend for more than an hour (or 2 at the most). Try calming activities in the hour before bedtime, including reading, writing or listening to audiobooks or podcasts.

Food and drink

Eat regularly throughout the day and have a healthy supper an hour before bed. Caffeine affects sleep drive so avoid tea, coffee, energy drinks after 4pm, and cut down during the day in general.

Mental health

If you are anxious or worried about things happening in your life, and this is affecting your sleep, talk to someone you trust to get help. It is common for worries to overwhelm you at bedtime and during the night. Try writing a diary earlier in the day to plan and to write down concerns. There are many meditation or breathing apps available you can try out during the day.

Waking in the night

If you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep then get out of bed, maybe even outside your bedroom and read or listen to a podcast until you feel sleepy enough to go back to bed. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Loona are helpful to relax. After about 30 minutes try to go back to sleep. Make sure that other people in your home know that you may be up and about.

Social media, video sharing channels and gaming

Content can be really alerting. Friends may be communicating with you until late into the night via social media, and this can affect your ability to fall asleep. If you are gaming later and later it can become difficult to stop, and your body can develop an advanced sleep phase. This can upset your ability to manage waking for school or college and consequently affect your physical and mental wellbeing. Try to work out ways to keep in touch or game with a different set of gamers at times to suit your sleep. Ask someone for help with this as it can be tough. Make sure that technology including phones are on charge elsewhere and use an ordinary alarm to wake for the day. Adults benefit from this too!

Schools and sleep: How you can help

If you are aware that a young person is sleepy during the school day or is unable to attend on time, consider the following.

Encourage the young person to complete a diary for 2 weeks. On average how much sleep are they getting each night? Is the young person getting an acceptable amount sleep based on average sleep ranges? This can be between 7 and 10 hours averaged over a fortnight.

Does the young person spend more than 30 minutes each night awake in bed? We all wake during the night, most of us don’t notice this and settle back to sleep.

Is the wakefulness due to behaviour or lifestyle or could it have a medical cause? If you suspect a medical cause seek advice. Be aware that young people often experience a shift in their sleep pattern by 2 hours in teenage years. So a 7am start can feel like a 5am start for teens.

If the young person is using screens late into the night use some of the resources here to help give information. The light from screens can reduce the amount of sleep hormone melatonin produced by the body. Content can also make you more alert. Use a traditional alarm clock and place screens elsewhere.

Does the young person have set wake up times in order to develop a pattern? Having short sleep during the week and then a catch up over the weekend is not helpful to develop sleep quality.

Does the young person spend too much time in bed, therefore waking is more likely? It is important to make sure that they keep the bedroom as a place for relaxation and sleep.

Any changes in sleep pattern, for example waking up earlier or going to bed earlier, can be made slowly, 15 minutes each time. If a young person is trying to tackle their sleep problem, an adapted timetable may be helpful initially as they try to change their sleep pattern.

Have opportunities during the school day for reflection. There are mindful techniques developed especially for schools. After lunch is a good time to choose. Time to address anxiety is helpful for sleep.

Make sure that knowledge about sleep is a priority across the school, including teaching staff. Hunrosa provides accredited Sleep Right training and wellbeing sessions. There are benefits for all in terms of mental and physical health and learning and performance.

Sleep for young adults

From 18 to 25 our need for sleep can be similar to that experienced in teenage years.

Although the need for sleep changes, anything between 6 and 11 hours when taken as an average across 2 weeks may be fine, when you don’t feel sleepy during the day. Keep regular sleep patterns, not short sleep in the week and make up for it over the weekend. Sleep doesn’t work that way. Keep a sleep diary if you are concerned and note how you feel. You may get 6 hours over the 2 weeks and feel fine, some may get 8 hours and feel underslept. Everyone is different. If you are concerned follow the below checklist.

  • Bedroom environment. Is it restful and reserved for sleep and intimacy.
  • The hour before bed. Take time to relax to prepare for sleep.
  • Take time during the day to relax and reflect there are apps to help like Calm and Headspace.
  • Anxiety can be helped by planning out tasks during the day.
  • Make sure that you don’t have too much caffeine. It has the potential to affect you in the night from lunch time onward.
  • Drugs and alcohol will affect sleep particularly later in the night.
  • Use daylight to your advantage when you wake. About 30 minutes in the daylight helps. Keep regular sleep patterns and try to have no more than an hour lie in.
  • As we know that daylight wakes us up, also the light from screens can reduce your sleep hormones. Also the content can make us more alert especially social media and video channels. Keep tech elsewhere and use an alarm clock other than a phone.

If you work shifts take care when travelling home from a night shift. Try to bank sleep by going to bed earlier in the week before a night shift. Ideally aim for work where set shifts are possible and avoid split shifts.

If you wake during the night on a regular basis, after approximately 15 minutes get out of bed and do something dull with no purpose. After 30 minutes return to bed, if you can’t sleep still, wait for another 30 minutes and then try to sleep again. This will make sure that you associate your bed with sleep. If you are waking a lot your opportunity for sleep maybe too much. Try to fit your need for sleep with your opportunity. You can find out your sleep need by completing a sleep diary.

Some people may have medical conditions affecting sleep. If you snore and gasp whilst asleep take medical advice as you may have sleep apnoea. Some people who are very restless at night may have a sleep movement disorder. These are treatable, if you think that this may be the case, consult your GP.

Remember that as we go through life we are more likely to have difficult experiences which may affect sleep. Sometimes talking therapies can help. Most insomnia (a sleep problem lasting longer than 3 months) is treatable with techniques without medication. It is sometimes tempting to worry about sleep quantity and this can cause more sleeplessness. If you find that during the day you are thinking a lot about your lack of sleep in the night, seek advice.

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