Ask a Therapist: Why Does My Teenager Sleep So Much?
“Why does my teenager sleep so much? He’s getting over 10 hours a day, and he’s still tired. Should I be worried?”
Some parents might write off a tired teen as a clichéd stereotype, picturing adolescents who are almost impossible to wake up on a school day. However, the causes of excessive sleepiness in teenagers — and the ramifications for your child’s mental and even physical health — are complex. If you’re wondering, “Why does my teenager sleep so much?”, the answer is far from straightforward, according to Tiffany Carey, the assistant clinical director of the Embark Behavioral Health short-term residential treatment program in San Martin, California.
Table of contents
- Why Do Some Teenagers Sleep So Much and Get Overtired?
- The Importance of Sleep for Good Mental Health
- How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Need, and Should They Have a Bedtime?
- How Sleeping Too Much Affects Teen Health
- How To Help Your Teen Who Sleeps Too Much
- When Teens Sleep Too Much: Wrapup
Why Do Some Teenagers Sleep So Much and Get Overtired?
“One of the most common reasons for why your teenager is sleeping too much is the obvious hormonal changes they’re going through,” Carey said, noting that their circadian rhythm — their sleep-wake cycle — shifts as puberty starts, and they often don’t feel sleepy until later in the evening.
“They turn into night owls, but they still need their sleep, so it may result in the teenager sleeping too much, feeling drowsy all day, or going to bed early,” she said.
Beyond the rush of teen hormones, Carey said other factors behind why your teenager is sleeping a lot include:
- Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression.
- Medications, such as those for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Physical health issues, such as chronic pain.
- A lack of quality sleep.
“Sleep quality is an important issue, as not sleeping well can leave teens tired and restless throughout the day,” Carey said.
The Importance of Sleep for Good Mental Health
Multiple journal studies, including one published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, have shown a correlation between sleep and mental health in teens, and Carey agrees with that assessment.
“Sleep and mental health in teens are 100% connected,” she said.
She noted that going to bed late, waking up constantly throughout the night, and sleeping in excessively may increase the risks of mental health concerns. But it’s a two-way street. Carey also warned that poor mental health can be why some teenagers sleep so much.
How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Need, and Should They Have a Bedtime?
So, how much sleep does a teenager need? According to guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in consensus with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens ages 13-18 should get eight to 10 hours of sleep per day.
Should teenagers have a bedtime? The answer is yes. Work backward from when your teen needs to wake up so they can get ready and be somewhere on time. Encourage them to go to bed at least eight hours before that.
How Sleeping Too Much Affects Teen Health
When it comes to sleep and teen health, sleeping too much can have an impact on mental and physical well-being. Early start times at school can add to this issue, as a teenager who’s always tired can have difficulty getting up for and functioning well in class.
Carey noted that high school can be a particularly difficult time for teenagers who have sleep issues given they have challenges such as academic pressure, juggling school and work, balancing extracurricular activities like hobbies and sports, and dealing with relationship, peer pressure, and other social factors.
Mental health effects
“Many parents I work with minimize the mental health aspects and focus just on their child’s sleep habits,” Carey said. “But sleep and teens’ mental health go hand in hand.”
She pointed out that while more research needs to be done on whether oversleeping causes mental health problems, sleep disorders are typically present with common teen mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
In adolescents, sleep problems and mental health symptoms are interrelated, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychology & Psychiatry.
When it comes to depression and sleep, for example, your teen may be oversleeping because they’re not getting high-quality sleep due to sleep disturbances. A study in Frontiers in Psychology found that sleep disturbances are associated with major depressive disorder in adolescents. In addition, data showed that as disturbances increased, depression symptoms worsened. Likewise, Carey said oversleeping is one of the most prevalent symptoms of teen depression.
Regarding anxiety and oversleeping, those with this mental health condition can have poor sleep quality.
“If a teen has anxiety, that makes it harder for them to fall asleep,” Carey said. “So, they stay up later and get less sleep, which makes their anxiety worse, and it repeats over and over again.”
Sleep anxiety, which involves worrying about or being afraid of falling or staying asleep, can also be an issue.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
When it comes to PTSD and sleeping too much, research does not show that oversleeping has an effect on this disorder. However, if a teen oversleeps because they have insomnia or poor sleep quality, those sleep problems can worsen PTSD symptoms.
Carey said it’s also important to consider the effect PTSD has on oversleeping because teens with PTSD can feel chronic, excessive fatigue.
Sleeping too much does not have an effect on ADHD, but parents should be aware of the impact the disorder has on oversleeping. For example, some ADHD medications are stimulants, which can be an issue for teenagers.
“They can make it hard for your teen to sleep at night, leaving them more tired during the day,” Carey said.
She advised that teens talk to their doctor if ADHD and oversleeping are a concern.
“Brain fog” is a nonclinical term often used to describe poor focus, difficulty concentrating, and poor memory. Brain fog from oversleeping may occur for various reasons. For example, a report in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America journal shared that if a child doesn’t get proper sleep, their cognitive abilities — which include memory and attention — suffer.
Oversleeping on the weekends to make up for insufficient weeknight sleep can also cause brain fog. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that more than an hour of weekend catch-up sleep may negatively affect executive function (e.g., memory and focus) in school-aged children.
Oversleeping and not sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can disrupt your teen’s circadian rhythm. This can cause an imbalance in their levels of cortisol, also referred to as the stress hormone, making it harder for them to manage overwhelming stress.
It’s important to note that stress and sleeping too much can exacerbate each other because just as sleep issues can affect stress, stress can affect sleep.
“If your teen’s stress is overwhelming, they may come home and immediately crash,” Carey said. “Likewise, overwhelming stress may make it hard for them to get a restful sleep, leaving them tired the next day.”
Physical health effects
It’s not just your teenager’s mental health that’s affected by getting too much sleep. There’s also a link between sleep and physical health, as they may experience more common everyday worries, such as fatigue, headaches, and back pain.
Even if your child is oversleeping to cope with teenage fatigue, sleeping too much can negatively affect their circadian rhythm. This may leave them even more tired, not unlike being perpetually jet-lagged.
Getting a headache from sleeping too much is a common occurrence, according to an analysis of multiple studies that was published in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers suggested that improving overall sleep quality may help address the frequency and intensity of headaches.
Oversleeping, especially if your teen has a poor-quality mattress or sleeps in a poor position, can make them wake up with a sore back.
How To Help Your Teen Who Sleeps Too Much
Now that you have a better understanding of why do some teens sleep so much, you can take proactive steps to help your tired teenager. The following tips may help reset their circadian rhythm so they can get the rest they need.
Help your teen develop healthy sleep hygiene and habits
Sleep hygiene for teens refers to cultivating an environment and a routine that supports a consistent sleep schedule and improved quality of rest.
Help your teen develop a bedtime routine
Setting a regular bedtime routine for a teenager helps them ease out of the stress and busyness of their day and signals to their brain that it’s time to relax and go to sleep, Carey said.
“I recommend that at least 30 minutes before bed, they begin a regular nondigital bedtime routine,” she said. “That might look like brushing their teeth, doing their skincare routine, picking out their clothes for the next day, packing their lunch, and then lying down.”
Encourage reduced caffeine and nicotine use
If your teen enjoys caffeine and oversleeps, their use of this natural stimulant may be the answer to your question of “Why does my teenager sleep so much?”
Regarding nicotine, research in the Journal of Adolescence found that adolescents who used e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes were more likely to report sleep-related complaints.
When addressing your teen’s caffeine and nicotine use, Carey cautioned against lecturing them about their harmful side effects.
“They already know these things are bad,” she said. “Just repeating the information won’t get the message across. Instead, parents can give insight and get their teen’s buy-in for changing or stopping negative habits by having open conversations. You might say, ‘Hey, I realize you’re not sleeping well. Do you notice if you’re more tired when you drink caffeine at night?’”
Limit social media and technology use
“There have been studies since the advent of social media about how it, and other forms of technology, negatively affect sleep,” Carey said. “For example, the majority of my clients say using social media makes them feel worse about themselves, which in turn can make it harder for them to unwind, relax, and sleep.”
To help improve your tired teenager’s quality of sleep, Carey recommended you suggest they:
- Avoid social media at bedtime.
- Eliminate the use of smartphones, tablets, and laptops in their bedroom.
- Watch shows or movies on a TV instead of a device they hold close to their face, as the bright lights of smartphones may disrupt their sleep-wake cycle.
Encourage exercise, yoga, and mindfulness
Studies have shown exercise, yoga, and mindfulness can be helpful to your teenager. For example, a review of studies and randomized controlled trials published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that mindfulness habits, such as meditation and deep breathing, may improve sleep quality.
Carey recommended working with your teen to find activities they enjoy.
“Not all mindfulness skills work with all teens,” she said. “Parents need to remember that what calms them and helps them will change as they get older. They might like box breathing when they’re 14 but hate it when they’re 16. Don’t force them. Help them explore other ways to move and breathe, like gymnastics instead of yoga. They often don’t know what their options are, and parents can give guidance and ideas.”
Schedule a doctor’s appointment
Your teen may have underlying health issues that contribute to, or are caused by, sleeping too much. In addition, any medications they’re on for anxiety or ADHD could be behind their sleep problems. Carey suggested talking to a doctor if you have any concerns.
Reach out to a therapist for help
Every teen is different, and a therapist can give you personalized answers to the question “Why does my teenager sleep so much?”
“I advise parents to reach out to a therapist if they find that their teenager is sleeping through preferred activities or if oversleeping is causing a decline in important areas of life,” Carey said.
“For example, maybe your teen used to go skateboarding every Saturday with their friends, but now they’re skipping it to sleep,” she said. “Or, maybe their sleeping habits are causing a drop in grades. That’s when there may be a clinical issue like anxiety or trauma, and a therapist can help your teen explore that.”
When Teens Sleep Too Much: Wrapup
From hormonal changes that occur in adolescence to medical concerns, it’s clear there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “Why does my teenager sleep so much?”, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help your tired teenager improve their sleep habits.
“The most important thing — and I know some parents forget what it’s like being a teenager — is remembering that less is more,” Carey said. “You can help your teen, but they’ll shut down if they’re preached at. Keep your advice and suggestions about things like caffeine use or social media simple, short, and concise, and you’ll be much more effective.”
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!