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7 Textbook Signs Your Teen Is Sleep Deprived

In this video, pediatricians Alok Patel, MD, and Preeti Parikh, MD, describe how much sleep teens need and signs that they’re not getting enough.

Lauren SmithMera Goodman, MD
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD
Updated on January 17, 2021

Turning moody, grumpy, and a little too sassy for their own good is practically in the job description of becoming a teenager. But while many blindsided parents (‘where did my once-sweet, sunny, and happy-go-lucky kid disappear to?” may be quick to chalk up those mood swings to puberty-related hormonal shifts, body changes may not be the only reason for your teen’s new monosyllabic vocabulary of grunts and under-the-breath mutterings.

Another likely factor: too little sleep.

A 2010 study in Journal of Adolescent Health found that only 7.6 percent of high school students reported sufficient sleep (yiiiikes). All that sleep deprivation can obviously result in a crabby kid, but the consequences go beyond your adolescent’s mood: Studies show a link between insufficient sleep and excess weight, poor school performance, mental health issues, drug and alcohol use, and even bullying.

For their best health (and minimal mood swings), teenagers need around eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. (Learn how much sleep each age group needs here.) “Not every adolescent needs the same amount of sleep,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor for HealthiNation. “It’s really important to see what your adolescent needs.”

If your teen is sleep deprived, you might notice the following symptoms, according to Dr. Parikh:

  • Irritability

  • Change in mood

  • Depression

  • Inattentiveness

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Tired all the time

  • Fatigued

Convinced you’ve got a sleep-deprived teen? Try these tips to help your teen sleep better.

If your teen consistently clocks eight to 10 hours of sleep and is still clinging desperately to the mattress every morning, take a look at the quality of her sleep. If he’s snoring or gasping for air at night, says Dr. Parikh, that could be a sign of sleep apnea. This condition causes you to stop breathing periodically during sleep, which repeatedly disrupts slumber and causes excessive daytime fatigue. Here are other common sleep disorders to know about.

“If a teen is not breathing properly, or has obstructive sleep apnea, he or she will be exhausted the next day and may even develop headaches,” says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician for New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “That’s something that needs to be medically managed, as opposed to [with] sleep hygiene.”

Other examples of medical conditions that could impact your teen’s sleep are mental health disorders like generalized anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Consider that 31.9 percent of U.S. teens (ages 13 to 18) have some type of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and that can take a huge hit on their sleep quality.

In other words, while sleep deprivation is common among teens, give your teen some benefit of the doubt and talk to the pediatrician if you’re concerned. “There are so many conditions that can affect somebody’s sleep,” says Dr. Patel, “and we don’t just categorize everything as, you know, a ‘stubborn teenager.’”

Additional Medical Contributors (2)
  • Alok Patel, MDDr. Patel is a pediatrician at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.
    • Preeti Parikh, MDPreeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

      References

      Teens and Sleep. Atlanta, GA. National Sleep Foundation (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep)

      Any Anxiety Disorder. Bethesda, MD. NIH (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml)

      View All References (5)

      Any anxiety disorder. Bethesda, MD:  National Institute of Mental Health. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/sleep-disorders.)

      Eaton DK, McKnight-Eily LR, Lowry R, Perry GS, Presley-Cantrell L, Croft JB. Prevalence of insufficient, borderline, and optimal hours of sleep among high school students - United States, 2007. J Adolesc Health. 2010 Apr;46(4):399-401.

      How many hours of sleep do you need? Altanta, GA. National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://sleep.org/articles/how-many-hours-of-sleep-do-we-need/.)

      Sleep disorders: the connection between sleep and mental health. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Health. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/sleep-disorders.)

      Wheaton AG, Chapman DP, Croft JB. School start times, sleep, behavioral, health, and academic outcomes: a review of the literature. J Sch Health. 2016 May;86(5):363-81.

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