How does puberty impact sleep?
You likely know that adolescents go through many changes during puberty, but did you know puberty can have a major impact on sleep?
Right around the time puberty begins, young adolescents start requiring slightly less sleep – between 8-10 hours each night instead of 9-11. At the same time, their sleep-wake phase, or the time at which they go to sleep and wake up, starts to shift.
“This shift toward a later sleep time is a natural, physiological occurrence that is not entirely dependent on screen time. This even happens in countries with minimal technology,” explains Dr. Innessa Donskoy, a pediatric sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “The time a child’s body wants to sleep and the time it wants to wake never move independently, so since they may be staying up later, they’ll want to make up that time in the morning. This can lead to a child who is difficult to wake for school.”
She says that many parents believe allowing their teen to “catch up” on sleep over the weekends and during the summer may seem like the answer, but that pattern can lead to a big mismatch of the adolescent’s internal “time zone” through the week, and perpetuate issues with getting sufficient sleep on weekdays, the days they arguably need it the most.
“We want to support this natural sleep shift, but we also want to help our kids feel refreshed,” says Dr. Donskoy. “That’s why I recommend aligning your child’s sleep-wake phase earlier by having them wake at the same time on the weekend as they would on a weekday. This consistency will help your child be as rested as possible.”
Does getting your teen out of bed before noon sound impossible? Dr. Donskoy recommends using motivating activities to get your child out of bed.
“Avoid the fight between parents and teens by having something worth waking up for, whether that’s a family breakfast out, an activity they love or a chore that allows them to earn a privilege,” says Dr. Donskoy.
She says other pubertal bodily changes can also impact sleep.
“Young girls beginning their periods may find sleep challenging at some points of their cycle and easier at others. Blood loss can lower iron levels and lead to restlessness or poor sleep quality,” explains Dr. Donskoy. “For young developing boys, with increasing testosterone we start to see higher rates of sleep apnea, similar to rates in adult males.”
How can you tell if your child is getting the sleep they need?
“Maintain open lines of communication with your child no matter their age. Find a consistent, uninterrupted, phone-free time to talk. Foster and normalize those discussions early. You’ll be able to get a sense if their sleep is problematic by discussing how they’re feeling at school and throughout the day.”
If your child is having trouble sleeping, Dr. Donskoy cautions against turning to melatonin.
“Melatonin is a very accessible and commonly used over-the-counter supplement, but it’s not currently clear whether it can impact pubertal timing. Instead, speak with your child’s physician. Depending on the issue, your pediatrician also might recommend a pediatric sleep doctor.”
Learn more about Advocate Children’s Hospital’s pediatric sleep medicine program.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Learn more about sleep apnea by taking a free online quiz.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.