The Normal Stages of Sleep For Children

This is the third part of looking at normal stages of sleep for children. 

Part One covers children ages four through nine.

Part Two covers children ages eight through twelve.

Today, we are going to look at teenagers and sleep.  While infants and children are often “larks” – waking up early and going to bed early, many adolescents are “owls” who wake up late and stay up late.  Sleep patterns are controlled by hormonal factors and brain signaling related to development, so this transition to a time of being “owls” is often followed back to a transition of being a “lark” again as maturation occurs. 

Early rising for school doesn’t mean that teens will feel ready to go to sleep from a hormonal and brain development standpoint, so what often occurs is actually a shrinking in the number of hours a teenager gets.  And unfortunately, a teenager needs more sleep than either adults or much younger siblings.  They still need about nine to  ten hours of sleep a night!

In the book “The Teenage Brain:  A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Frances E. Jensen, MD with Amy Ellis Nutt, the authors note, “Memory and learning are thoughts to be consolidated during sleep, so it’s a requirement for adolescents and as vital to their health as the air they breathe and the food they eat.” (page 89).  There are some very interesting studies in this book noted in regards to learning, motor learning and sleep.  It has been found that studying or practicing something and then “sleeping on it” really does increase retention and performance. 

Melatonin is released about two hours later in a teenager’s system and it also lingers longer, causing a teenager to be drowsy in the morning.   There are also interesting differences in amount of slow-wave deep sleep cycles in teenagers as compared to adults, and differences in the pruning of brain synapses as related to learning and sleep.

From the book “The Teenaged Brain”, page 96:  “It [lack of good sleep] can have profound and lasting effects on teenagers and could contribute to everything from juvenile delinquency to depression, obesity, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.  Studies have shown that teenagers who report sleep disturbances have more often consumed soft drinks, fried foods, sweets, and caffeine.  They also report less physical activity and more time in front of TV and computers.  Another study found that teenagers who had trouble sleeping at ages twelve to fourteen were two and a half times more likely to report suicidal thoughts at ages fifteen to seventeen than adolescents with good sleep habits.”

Ways to help your teen’s sleep include:

  • Taking away electronic devices before bedtime.  Those should be locked down for the night.
  • The bright LED light of a computer screen should be turned off an hour before bedtime.   The lights suppress melatonin
  • Have your child do “non-tech” activities at night and do the same activities at the same time at night.
  • Make lists of things that need to be done to help decrease any anxiety.
  • Avoid television in the bedroom – associating television and food with bedtimes is often cited by experts as problematic for healthy sleep patterns.
  • Keep the house as peaceful and emotionally stable as possible.  Arguments and tension disrupt sleep!
  • One epidemiologist recommends that teenagers should have a bedtime that is 10 PM or before, according to sleep studies.   Keeping bedtimes and awake times consistent are helpful.
  • Check to see what caffeinated drinks your teen is drinking during the day to stay awake.  Cutting those out may be helpful in a quest for sleep.
  • And as always, speak to your teenager’s medical team if you feel the fatigue or sleep challenges your teen is facing seems different than the norm.


4 thoughts on “The Normal Stages of Sleep For Children

  1. Pingback: » The Normal Stages of Sleep For Children

  2. Funny that sleep is your topic today! My DD, age 8.5, is suddenly having trouble falling asleep. Like, it will take her a couple of hours, and she’s distraught by that time. For a long time, bedtime in our house has been 7:30, and I’ve protected that because I think too many kids get too little sleep. But maybe it’s time to adjust for her? Do you think 8:30 is a reasonable bedtime for a girl that age? I’d love some feedback:)

    • Hi Angela! I think for an almost 9 year old third grader, I would think more 7:45 or 8 ish. I would try to help her set a nighttime routine with specific steps, and also make sure she gets plenty of physical exercise during the week. Eight and a half can be an age of nightmares and such, so you may need to investigate if sleep is fearful for her. Also, if screen time is allowed, you may need to cut it out during the week and see if that improves anything.

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