Promoting adequate sleep in young people
Young people need adequate sleep for healthy growth, learning and development.1,2 However, many do not get sufficient sleep.3,4 This can lead to daytime tiredness and a range of physical and mental health problems. This short article outlines the evidence for promoting adequate sleep for young people and provides research-based implications for professionals working with young people and their parents.
Why does sleep matter for young people?
Insufficient sleep in childhood and adolescence can lead to difficulty concentrating and poor memory, depressed mood5 and poor emotional regulation,6 as well as long-term health problems such as diabetes,7 obesity 8 and cardiovascular risk.9 The Australian Department of Health recommends between nine and 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep for young people aged 12–13 years and between eight and 10 hours of sleep for those aged 14–17 years. Consistent bed and wake-up times are also recommended.10
Growing Up in Australia:The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) found as young people got older their sleep duration reduced, particularly on school nights.11 Around a quarter of 12–13 year olds and a half of 16–17 year olds were not getting the minimum eight hours of sleep on school nights. The research showed that as they got older their bedtimes got later but their wake times remained the same.
What factors impact sleep?
A number of factors have been found to affect young people’s sleep (see Table 1).12
|Factors that reduce sleep||Factors that support sleep|
|Biological clock shifts||Daytime physical activity|
|Increased time on schoolwork or other activities||Regular bed and wake times|
|Challenges with mental health||A relaxing sleep routine before bedtime|
|Use of electronic devices at night||Ideal sleep environment|
Biological changes associated with puberty lead to a shift in young people’s body clocks causing them to stay up later at night and sleep in later in the morning.13 Social changes that reduce young people’s sleep may include increases in schoolwork, more control over their own bedtimes, part-time work and additional time spent socialising or pursuing interests.
Problems with sleep and challenges with mental health increase during adolescence. Mental health is related to sleep; difficulties with mental health can affect sleep and insufficient sleep can increase the risk of mental health challenges and struggles.14,15
Screen use and social media activity is related to staying up later at night and shorter sleep duration for young people.16,17 This may be due to the time spent on screens replacing sleep, mental stimulation from the content or the effects of blue light from screens.18
Physical activity during the day is related to better sleep.19 A number of other factors support sleep: regular bed and wake times across the week; a relaxing sleep routine before bedtime (e.g. low lighting, having a bath, mindfulness techniques); and a quiet, dark bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
What works to support young people to get enough sleep?
The secondary school years are a vulnerable period for young people’s sleep when many do not get enough sleep for optimal health and learning. Education programs delivered to young people in school classrooms can highlight the importance of good sleep and provide information about lifestyle changes students can make to improve sleep.20
While being aware of their child’s shifting biological clock and their increasing need for autonomy, parents and caregivers can be encouraged to discuss the importance of reasonable and regular bedtimes and limits on screen use before bed.20
In dealing with young people with emerging or occasional difficulties in managing emotional distress, school wellbeing officers, social workers and youth workers can discuss sleep routines and relevant lifestyle factors as part of an early intervention strategy.
Young people with known, suspected or reported sleep disturbances should be treated promptly to address the risks of mental health challenges and other problems. This may involve referral to trained health care professionals for cognitive behavioural sleep interventions.21
Further reading and related resources
- Sleep and young people
This fact sheet from Orygen provides information for young people about the importance of sleep, along with practical tips for getting better sleep and coping with stress.
- Sleep and teenagers: 12–18 years
This online resource for parents from raisingchildren.net.au provides information on how to support good sleep for young people and how to recognise signs of sleep problems.
- Sleep and wellbeing
This report from VicHealth explores the links between sleep and mental wellbeing for young people.
- Sleep and young people: Putting the myths to rest
This resource from Headspace explores some common myths around sleep and offers advice for young people, parents and health professionals for dealing with sleep difficulties.
- Facts about sleep for parents and school staff
This fact sheet by the Sleep Health Foundation for parents and school staff includes a list of signs that may indicate a young person is not getting enough sleep.
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16. Stiglic, N., & Viner, R. M. (2019). Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: A systematic review of reviews. BMJ Open, 9(1), e023191–e023191.
17. Alonzo, R., Hussain, J., Stranges, S., & Anderson, K. K. (2021). Interplay between social media use, sleep quality, and mental health in youth: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 56, 101414.
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20. Peltz, J. S., Rogge, R. D., & Connolly, H. (2019). Parents still matter: The influence of parental enforcement of bedtime on adolescents' depressive symptoms. Sleep, 43(5), zsz287.
21. Blake, M. J., Sheeber, L. B., Youssef, G. J., Raniti, M. B., & Allen, N. B. (2017). Systematic review and meta-analysis of adolescent cognitive-behavioral sleep interventions. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 20(3), 227–249.