The Impact of Sleep on Your Teen's Mental Health

If your teenager isn't getting enough sleep, the consequences may be serious. Depressive thoughts, difficulty paying attention, and increased stress are often exacerbated by inadequate sleep.

Lara Vukelich
Lara Vukelich is a freelance writer in San Diego, California. She writes creative content and SEO-driven copy that can be found everywhere from Huffington Post and Quiet Revolution to Expedia, Travelocity, MyMove and more. She has a master's degree in mass communication and media studies.
Lara Vukelich
5 min read
Unrecognizable teenage girl asleep with phone in her hand
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It's Saturday morning, and your teenager wants to sleep in. According to the experts, you should let them. Teenagers need more sleep than adults and don't often get it. In fact, more than 70% of teenagers aren't catching enough Z's during the week. 

Given the effects a lack of sleep can have on a growing body, having a tired teenager may be a bigger problem than you thought. The teenage years are a time of incredible physical and mental growth. Young people who are tired are more likely to get into car accidents, experience depression, and deal with other unfortunate side effects. 

How much sleep should teens get? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. That's more than adults need; most people over the age of 18 can get by on just 7 hours of sleep. 

According to Michigan State University, many teenagers struggle to get enough rest. The school says 70 to 80% of teenagers get less than 8 hours of sleep per night, and 30 to 40% of teenagers get less than 6 hours of sleep each night. 

What's impacting teen sleep?

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There are several common reasons that teenagers get less sleep than recommended. Some of these reasons can't be totally avoided, but certain lifestyle changes can help teenagers achieve a better sleep schedule. 


Dealing with stress can make it harder for teenagers to get enough quality sleep. According to a 2022 study based on a self-reported questionnaire, stress is more likely to result in poor sleep for teenage girls than boys. However, all teenagers may struggle to fall asleep if their minds are racing. 


The UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescents explains that biological shifts in the adolescent brain can turn young people into night owls. Natural changes associated with puberty push teenagers' circadian rhythm by about 2 hours. This can make it harder to fall asleep when they used to. Coupled with early morning school start times, it can become difficult to achieve 8 hours of slumber.

Busy schedules 

Increasingly busy schedules may also hinder teen sleep. Kids who are balancing a social life, sports practice, homework and home life may be so busy that getting 10 hours of sleep is often unachievable unless they shed some obligations.


A lack of sleep can increase anxiety, which in turn makes it harder to fall asleep again, creating an unfortunate cycle. Worry can lead to a high-stress state and result in no sleep or poor quality sleep. 

Teens, insomnia and mental health 

Sleep is tied to the state of teenage mental health. A 2021 study of Florida youth found that students who reported insufficient sleep also reported several mental health problems. For instance, students who said they didn't get enough sleep were more likely to report feeling sad or hopeless than students who reported getting sufficient sleep. Students who lacked enough sleep were also more likely to report serious thoughts or self-harm.  

A systematic review of research on inadequate sleep in adolescents also found that insomnia is consistently linked to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. 

Sleep tips for parents with teens

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There are several ways parents can encourage better teen sleep at home. Changing some habits could make a big difference. 

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Teach healthy coping mechanisms 

Cognitive behavioral therapies to alter thoughts and attitudes about sleep are often successful in limiting teenage insomnia. CBT may also help teenagers limit catastrophic thinking or other negative habits that keep them awake at night. Even without professional therapy, teaching kids to cope with stress can improve sleep. Nighttime meditation, journaling or reading could reduce stress before bed.

Practice good sleep hygiene 

Teenagers may be prone to having a messy room, and this can actually affect sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene means having a collection of healthy habits that encourage peaceful sleep. Your teenager can create a soothing sleep environment by keeping a clean bed, taking a hot shower 30 minutes before bedtime, using aromatherapy and shutting blinds to keep out exterior light. 

Stick to a schedule 

Routine can also help build a positive relationship between teens and sleep. Inconsistent sleep times make it hard for a teenager's body to fall into a predictable rhythm. Encourage your teen to go to sleep and wake up at a similar time each day, and if you can keep the schedule on the weekend, even better. 

Make their bedroom comfortable

If your teenager is tossing and turning at night, an uncomfortable bed may be to blame. Make sure your teen has a mattress, pillows and comfortable that make them feel cozy and comfortable. Side sleepers may benefit from different pillows than stomach and back sleepers. Changing their mattress firmness could also make a big difference. Experiment with scent, lighting, plants and accessories like Hatch alarms

Limit screen time 

As Harvard explains, blue wavelengths encourage our brains to remain attentive and may improve reaction times. While this is helpful during the day, it's easy to see why looking at blue lights at night would make it harder to fall asleep. Consider enacting a media curfew for your teenager. If they stop looking at devices with blue lights, including smartphones and tablets, for a few hours before bed, they may be able to fall asleep faster. 

Consider diet changes

Caffeine is a major sleep disruptor. Even beverages like decaffeinated coffee or tea may have small amounts of caffeine, so read labels carefully. Your teenager should avoid all caffeine in the afternoon and evening if they're having a hard time falling asleep. Spicy foods and certain proteins can also disrupt sleep. Johns Hopkins Medicine says that foods like pepperoni and processed cheese may trigger something called norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain. No more pizza right before bed!

Bottom line

Teenagers need more sleep than adults, and they often don't get it. During the week, early first bells at school mean it's impossible for kids to sleep in. Encouraging an early bedtime and good sleep hygiene can make a big difference in your teen's life. Not only will it be easier for your teen to concentrate at school, but they may be less likely to have negative thoughts and experience anxiety. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.