Published on May 24, 2021

A teenage boy on his phone in bed.

Irregular sleep can negatively impact adolescents and teens

Sufficient quality sleep is essential for optimal physical, behavioral and cognitive health, as well as the ability to ward off illness and disease. Seven consecutive nights of sound, restful sleep help everyone manage daily life and make good decisions. In teens and adolescents, poor sleep can impact growth, development and academic performance along with other aspects of health.

Anxiety, depression, mood swings and aggression have been attributed to sleep disturbances in youth.

"Poor sleep can also affect executive function and the ability to respond quickly," said ProHealth Medical Group pediatrician Faye Mansour-Shammo, MD. "A student taking a standardized test can know the correct answer but not be able to execute it because there is a lapse in cognitive functioning. This can have long-term consequences."

Children ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, teens ages 14 to 17 need 8 to 10 hours, and young adults ages 18 to 25 need seven to nine hours.

A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 72% of high school students and 57% of middle school students did not get enough sleep on school nights.

Disrupted sleep and too little sleep interfere with the natural sleep cycle. The circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle of sleep and wakefulness – regulates hormones, metabolism, digestion, body temperature, and neural and physical activity.

Sleep problems may be a factor when a child demonstrates:

  • Difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep.
  • Restless legs or twisting and turning during sleep.
  • Oversleeping on weekends.
  • Fatigue, drowsiness or yawning.
  • Allergies, congestion, snoring or open mouth breathing.
  • Poor eating habits or eating disorders.
  • Anger, defiance or risk taking.
  • Social or relationship issues.
  • Accidents or injuries.
  • Academic failure or changes in schoolwork.

"Parents can observe their children’s habits and ask them about their sleep patterns to determine whether they are getting enough quality sleep," Dr. Mansour-Shammo said. "They can help children keep a sleep diary to record the amount and quality of sleep they get each night."

Dr. Mansour-Shammo recommends that parents help children:

  • Go to sleep and rise at the same time every day.
  • Avoid caffeine and soda, especially after dinnertime.
  • Limit screen time and bright lights in the evening.
  • Avoid strenuous workouts before bedtime.
  • Leave digital devices off and outside of the bedroom during sleep time.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, quiet and comfortable overnight.
  • Rise to natural light.

Regular sleep disturbances can have a negative impact on many aspects of a young person’s life. Your pediatrician can help you determine whether your child is having health or behavioral issues related to sleep, and what can be done to alleviate sleep issues. A wide variety of information and resources about sleep is also available at SleepFoundation.org.