Sleep Cycle Naturally Changes When Kids Hit Adolescence

A teenager’s natural draw to sleep later may be mistaken for laziness

Barrow HeadshotDAYTON, Ohio (July 12, 2016) – A teenager’s inability to go sleep at a decent hour or desire to sleep later in the morning shouldn’t always be blamed on laziness or their propensity to go against a parent’s wishes. 

Sleep changes in two significant ways for a child around age 12 or when they enter their adolescent years, according to Michael Barrow, MD, a family physician with Samaritan North Family Physicians.

“When a child becomes a teenager they need more sleep and they also experience a change in their circadian rhythm, which determines the time of day they want to go to sleep,” says Dr. Barrow, who practices with Premier HealthNet

Everyone’s body has a natural circadian rhythm whereby the hormone melatonin is released creating the natural feeling of sleepiness. Younger children may experience that feeling earlier in the night while adults may feel it later in the evening. Adolescents, however, often march to a totally different tune.

“Kids may say they don’t feel as if they can’t go to bed before midnight or one in the morning and that’s probably true,” Dr. Barrow says. “They haven’t started to wind down yet because of the timing of that chemical release. By the same token, the chemical release makes them more tired in the morning. They’re not being lazy. Their bodies really want to sleep more because that’s just the way their body is wired.”

There’s no scientific finding as to why this shift occurs, but studies have found that a teenager’s sleep cycle often changes with the onset of puberty, Dr. Barrow says. 

Unfortunately, the shift in a teenager’s sleep cycle doesn’t line up well with other factors in their life such as the amount of sleep their body needs and the early-morning hours that school demands. According to the National Sleep Foundation Off Site Icon (NSF), teens need between eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, however, studies have found that only 15 percent of them get eight hours of sleep on school nights.

Lack of proper sleep leads to consequences teens already fight against such as increased risk for acne, inability to concentrate and problem solve, greater tendency for unhealthy eating, and aggressive or inappropriate behavior, the NSF says. 

Dr. Barrow recommends the following steps for parents when it comes to sleep and their teens:

Understand it’s biological – It’s important to first understand that a teen’s approach to sleep is significantly linked to a change in their biological clock. Parents should use that understanding to help form strategies that will help teens get the sleep they need.

You can’t make-up lost sleep – Teens have a tendency to sleep very little during the week and then a lot on the weekend under the misconception that they are making up for lost sleep. However, sleep deprivation cannot be reversed. Instead, try to keep sleep schedules as similar as possible regardless of the day of week.

Power down early – Have teens turn off devices with a lighted screen an hour before bedtime. Use that time to get a warm shower or get ready for school the next day. Bedtime routines aren’t just for toddlers. Teens can benefit from having a regular routine every night. It’s a natural way of telling the body it’s time to turn in.

For more information on teens and sleep or to find a Premier HealthNet provider near you, visit

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