Insomnia or Sleep is Your Teen Getting the Right Amount?

Did you know that according to a recent National Sleep Foundation poll, almost 80 percent of U.S. teens do not get a proper night’s sleep? While missing sleep once in a while is normal, many American teens are consistently falling short of the recommended 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep per night.

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With over 80 percent of U.S. teens affected by insomnia, it is important for parents to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment.

Normally a teen’s circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock, is reset during these years causing fatigue to set in later in the night. Waking up later in the morning would be a natural function, but with demands of a busy weekly schedule, it isn’t always possible. A steady stream of late nights and early mornings can make it more difficult for teens to function during the day.

Recently, researchers from the University of Texas performed a study of over 4000 adolescent teens between the ages of 11-17 to determine the number of insomnia occurences. One year later, they found that with those same test subjects, 13.9% had at least one symptom of insomnia with another 5.5% experiencing daytime fatigue. Approximately half of these cases studied were considered to be chronic, lasting more than one month. It is interesting to note that the researchers found no link between the results and the test subjects’ gender, age or family income level.

According to, insomnia is defined as a “prolonged and usually abnormal inability to get enough sleep”. In other words, it is the inability to get adequate hours or quality of sleep for mental, physical or emotional reasons. There are varying degrees of insomnia:

1. Transient insomnia (fewer than 7 days)

2. Acute insomnia (fewer than one month)

3. Chronic insomnia (lasting for more than 30 days)

There are many causes of teen insomnia and the challenge to parents and doctors is to pinpoint the cause and the solution. Time and patience may be needed to determine if it is due to a medical condition, a side effect from medicine, emotional health or substance abuse. Here are some potential culprits:

1. Stress – This is the most common cause of teen insomnia.

2. Overstimulation of electronics during the day and especially before bedtime

3. Short term illnesses such as headaches, stuffy noses and the flu

4. Emotional issues from relationships with friends and family

5. Uncomfortable sleeping conditions such as excessive room temperatures or external noise from televisions, radios and iPods

6. Psychiatric disorders

7. An diet consisting of unhealthy foods with high sugar and fat content

8. Eating a meal or snack right before bedtime

Sleep-deprived teens experience a decrease in their ability to focus. Because of inconsistent sleep, many teens receive poor grades, fall into a state of depression or become susceptible to dangerous situations like falling asleep behind the wheel. Today, there are a large number of untreated cases of teen insomnia, so it is important for parents to help their teen get the right amount of sleep each night. Here are some ways to help:

1. Insist upon a consistent sleep schedule of 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours each night

2. Cut back on naps and excessive sleep from sleeping in too late

3. Incorporate relaxing activities before bed such as reading and listening to calming music

4. Power off all video games, computers and phones

5. Turn off all bedroom lights

6. Avoid caffeine and alcohol

7. Encourage regular exercise can help as long as it is not within 4 hours of bedtime

If making these lifestyle changes has not improved your teen’s insomnia, consult with a physician. A physical examination may be required to find out if there are additional issues such as nightmares, obstructive sleep apnea, sleepwalking, narcolepsy, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) or restless legs syndrome (RLS).

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One thought on “Insomnia or Sleep is Your Teen Getting the Right Amount?

  1. LaterSchoolStart

    How can a parent “insist” on 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night in a 16-year-old who has to be up at 6 am or earlier to make the school bus? With so many high schools in this country starting in the 7 o’clock hour, and bus runs beginning as early as 5:20 in some districts, a teen would have to be sound asleep by 8 p.m. each night to get the recommended amount of sleep. Even if today’s kids didn’t have hours of homework and long rehearsals/practices that keep many of them up into the wee hours, even if they didn’t text and Facebook half the night, and even if they didn’t have the shifted circadian rhythms most of them have, 8 p.m. STILL wouldn’t be a realistic bedtime for a teenager. All of this blog’s advice is well and good, but if you don’t take a stand on the absurdly early school hours we have been imposing on teenagers (largely to save money on bus runs) for the past few decades, you are simply blaming the victims here. For more information about the growing national coalition to address this problem, see, as well as our petition asking for a minimum earliest school start time ( ). Obviously early school start times are not the only cause of teen sleep deprivation, but they are a major cause, and one that we can fix if we have the will to do so.

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