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Teen Sleep Science: Should You Be Worried?

If you feel like your teen’s sleep schedule is totally different from yours, it is! While it may seem like your adolescent child is simply pushing their bedtime limits, their internal clock is actually changing, along with their height and appetite. 

Teens often receive a bad rap when it comes to their sleep schedules. But in reality, their bodies are wired differently during puberty. This is part of the natural flow of their body growing and changing. A shift in teenagers’ circadian rhythm leads to the need to fall asleep later in the evening and sleep later into the day, so don’t be too hard on a teen’s new-found desire to stay awake later into the night.

While we set our alarms according to the next day’s schedule, our body is already hard at work operating under its internal clock. This natural timepiece is referred to as our circadian rhythm. Essentially, this process keeps the human body on a consistent wake-sleep schedule. This is why you fall into bed, tired in the evening, and wake up when the sun peeks through your window in the morning. 

During adolescence, teenagers’ bodies experience what is called a sleep phase delay. This delay represents the shift in their circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin is released in the evening, signaling to our bodies to prepare for sleep. According to Neurology Times, the shift in a teen’s circadian rhythm is due to a two-hour later release time of melatonin. This dissonance between adult and teen sleep patterns is made even greater by the fact that on average, teens need more sleep than adults. 

A collage of vector art showing a daily routine. Writing, soccer, music, eating, painting, bathing, sleeping, waking up

While the act of falling asleep later than usual is natural, certain activities can exacerbate the problem for teens. School, sports, and socials can be driving factors to ignore the need for sleep. Also, sleeping in more than two hours past normal wake time can cause abnormal shifts in the rhythm. Keeping a teen on a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine will allow for the recommended 9-10 hours of sleep.

Sleep is one of the many things shifting and changing in a young person’s life. A teen’s internal clock is always working for them, and awareness of how their circadian rhythm shifts happen will allow them to optimize their sleep to live their fullest lives while also allowing parents to not worry about it as much.