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Example: Kelly was 13. Her cousin Ben was 16. They would talk on the phone until late at night. They would always get into trouble but they said they were just not tired. They had a lot of trouble getting to sleep and getting up in the morning was always hard – sometimes too hard. Ben would often fall asleep in science class in the morning.

Sound familiar? Adolescents can have delayed sleep phases. That is – they get tired later than they did before. Their bodies are not ready to sleep when the clock says it is time.

This is due to both hormonal changes and social pressures.

Environmental Factors:

  • Consumption of caffeine drinks too close to bedtime
  • Teenagers have a lot more going on in their lives (jobs, social activities, school, sports, more homework, worry)
  • Lots of media and screen use before bedtime (TV, gaming, mobile phones)

These all compete for sleep – sleep is low on the priority list and is often given up for these other things.

Circadian (sleep/wake) rhythm Factors:

During adolescence there is a delay in the time when melatonin (one of our sleep hormones which makes us sleepy) is released from our brains to our bodies.

Therefore adolescents are not tired until later in the evening

So their bodies are not ready to fall asleep until later – so they do things to stop being bored (TV, phone).

They find it hard to get up in the morning because they fell asleep later and have not had enough sleep.

As a result, adolescents are usually very sleepy during the week as they miss out on a couple of hours sleep per night. By the end of the week they may have a ‘sleep debt’ of 10 hours. They may sleep in on the weekend to catch up that ‘debt’. Adolescents are sleep deprived – How can they learn like that?


Don’t let the weekend or holiday bedtime get too late . This will push the body clock further forward and make it harder to get to sleep earlier when school or work starts again.

Be aware of the signs of fatigue in young people during the day (withdrawal, anxiety, depression, aggression, poor learning and attention).

Be realistic with bedtimes.

Napping 20 minutes at about 4 PM is better than sleeping in TOO much on weekend to pay back sleep debt.

Promote good sleep hygiene.