Why is my teen turning into a night owl?

Published on: 4/9/2010

It’s after midnight and you can hardly keep your eyes open. Your teenager is in his or her bedroom watching TV and showing no signs of being sleepy. As a parent, it’s hard to understand how teenagers are so energetic at night when you have to drag them out of bed in the morning.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Many teens stay up late and sleep even later. This change in sleep patterns is caused by a normal shift in the body’s internal clock that happens around the time of puberty. Most teens handle this normal shift without problems, andl they outgrow it in their late 20s. However, some teens may develop a sleep disorder called delayed sleep phase syndrome, an exaggerated response to the normal shift in sleep patterns.

Teens with delayed sleep phase syndrome usually can’t fall asleep until after midnight and then have problems waking up early for school. They often are falling asleep in school, especially during morning classes, and complain about feeling tired during the day. When the sun goes down, these teens get a second wind and can’t fall asleep at bedtime. On weekends, if these teens are allowed to sleep in, they will wake up refreshed after getting about nine hours of sleep. That means that they don’t roll out of bed until 10 a.m. or later.

So how can you help your teenager keep a regular sleep pattern? Here are a few tips:

  1. Teens need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. The TV and other electronics need to be turned off 30 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Limit “sleep stealers” like caffeine or daytime naps, especially after 4 p.m.
  3. You can’t “catch up on sleep” by sleeping in on the weekends. It’s best to encourage your teen to keep a similar sleep schedule on the weekdays and weekends.
  4. Exposure to bright, natural light in the mornings after waking will help reset the body’s internal clock.

If you’re concerned about your teen’s sleep habits, talk to your pediatrician or one of our specialists. Children’s Hospital has Wisconsin’s only pediatric sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

To make an appointment at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Clinics-New Berlin, call Central Scheduling at (414) 607-5280 or request an appointment online.

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