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Does Your Teenager Get Enough Sleep?

Health First Sleep Disorders Center

So, your teenagers are sleeping past noon on weekends and it's driving you crazy... Well, relax. It's not necessarily a sign that they're becoming lazy and unmotivated. They're more likely catching up on much-needed sleep and will perform better in school, at work, or at home if they can catch a few extra "zzzz's."

Recent research shows that not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences for anyone; however, teens are especially vulnerable. "During adolescence, important changes occur in patterns of sleep and wakefulness," says Mark Mahowald, M.D., medical director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center. "A change occurs in the biological clock of adolescents, shifting to a later time, which means that even if they go to bed early, they will not be able to fall asleep as early as when they were younger. They must therefore sleep later in order to awaken rested and restored."

If they're in school, chances are they're getting up earlier than their bodies are telling them to. By the weekend, they have a sleep deficit and need to catch up.

Unfortunately, our society's attitudes about sleep stand in the way of developing healthy sleep habits. Sleep is often considered a waste of time and sleeping late, napping, or falling asleep in class or social settings are seen as sure signs of laziness, depression, boredom, or rebellion against responsibilities. The American work ethic has fostered the idea that sleep is negotiable, and that the less you can get by on, the better person you are. This especially holds true for teens, who are often juggling school, jobs, extracurricular activities, and a social life. Getting by on little sleep becomes a badge of honor.

Sleep requirements vary greatly from person to person. The average is seven to eight hours, but the range is five to 10. Your genes determine how much sleep you need and you have no more control over it than you do your height or eye color. There is also medical evidence that some people are "larks" who bound out of bed at sunrise and are ready to conquer the world, and some people are "owls" who would be perfectly happy rising at noon and going full steam until 2 a.m. Again, this is a trait that you have little, if any, control over. Your environment and lifestyle must be integrated to fit these genetic patterns.

What can you and your teenager do to be "sleep-healthy?"

  1. Understand that each person's body has its own sleep needs and getting enough sleep is just as necessary as proper food and drink.
  2. Realize that any degree of sleepiness impairs performance—from at the school desk to behind the wheel of a car.
  3. Assess extracurricular and employment activities. School performance will suffer if other activities cut too sharply into sleep time.
  4. Listen to your body. If you are often sleepy, get more sleep, nap or sleep-in when possible.
  5. Encourage school districts to alter school starting times for teenagers in accordance with scientific facts.
  6. Encourage sleep education at all levels—from primary school through college. Do not assume your physician is adequately educated in sleep; the vast majority of medical schools are woefully lacking in educating physicians regarding sleep.
  7. Give sleep the respect it deserves. You wouldn't scorn someone for eating or drinking when they're hungry or thirsty—why scorn them for sleeping when they're tired?

Health First Sleep Disorders Center
Palm Bay Community Hospital
1425 Malabar Road NE, Suite 250
Palm Bay, FL 32907
(321) 434-8087
Fax: (321) 434-8496

Who needs sleep evaluation?

Sleep "hygiene"

Back to main Sleep Center page