Want Your Teen’s Behavior to Improve? Encourage More Sleep

A tired teen studyingMany people know at least one teenager who seems to do nothing but sleep. While parents and well-meaning relatives might attribute this to typical adolescent laziness, recent research suggests a less negative interpretation. A new study published in Learning, Media and Technology suggests that when schools start later, academic performance and classroom behavior both improve.

Later School Start Times and Teen Behavior

According to the study’s authors, parents who lament the changes in their teens’ biological clocks really are onto something. During adolescence, they explain, teens’ circadian rhythms change in such a way that going to bed before 11 p.m. is extremely challenging. The ability of all people—teens, children, and adults—to function well is partially a product of how well a person’s social clock conforms to his or her natural circadian rhythms. For teens, social and academic demands often don’t fit well with the need to sleep and go to bed later.

The study’s authors explain that at the age of 16, the ideal time to wake up is about 8 a.m., while the right time to wake up at 18 is around 9 a.m. Schools that change their start times to around 10, then, tend to see better academic performance and a reduction in exhaustion-related problem behaviors. At the United States Air Force Academy, for example, a later start time has helped improve student grades.

Understanding Teen Sleep Needs

While the apparent endless sleeping of teens can look like laziness to adults, it’s a natural biological shift. The demands of school, sports, extracurricular activities, household chores, and similar obligations, though, mean that many adolescents go through their days chronically exhausted. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about nine hours of sleep each night, but only about 15% of teens get enough sleep.

Despite increased understanding of teens’ need for sleep, though, many high schools are starting classes earlier and earlier, often in an attempt to cram in as much information as possible each day. The Start School Later campaign aims to combat this trend. Parents and teens can learn more about the campaign here.


  1. Kelley, P., Lockley, S. W., Foster, R. G., & Kelley, J. (2014). Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later’. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-17. doi: 10.1080/17439884.2014.942666
  2. Secret to raising well behaved teens? Maximize their zzzzz’s. (2014, September 26). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140926085830.htm
  3. Teens and Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep

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  • Emma


    October 1st, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    This. Is. So. True!!!
    Give these teens a little more of an opportunity to succeed and be good kids by giving them more time to rest. I see the schools piling more and more work on them all the time with very little regard for the fact that this is not making too much of a difference in test scores and our kids are getting farther behind the rest of the world. This is in large part because we disregard how they learn best as well as when they learn best. I wouldn’t want to teach at 8pm at night but if this is what best serves our kids then there should be more schools willing to step outside of the box for a bit and try something a little different from time to time. What’s it going to hurt to actually try something new for a change especially when the research is out there that this could actually improve their skills and levels of retention?

  • c malloy

    c malloy

    October 2nd, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    What I don’t get is that no one ever thought that we needed later start times or more odifications to the school schedule and we did ok I guess so why all the big fuss about it now?

  • Stacy


    October 2nd, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    As a member of the Executive Board of the national non-profit Start School Later, I commend you on this article on adolescent sleep. As a therapist (LISW-S in private practice in NE Ohio) I commend you on your mission to help the general public recognize good and bad therapy. Thank you.

  • jonathan


    October 2nd, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    For students for whom this is actually a real problem then maybe the parents could look at some of the online offerings that are now available to students from all walks of life.
    There are some really fantastic online school programs which are an option for every single student today, and I think that for some it feels strange to step outside of that comfort zone, but let’s face it. There are just some kids who will not be a success in a traditional school but who may find tremendous success in an alternative setting. If my child had an issue in the classroom this would certainly be worth doing the research and determining if there was indeed a better option out there for her. I think that if you look enough you will probably find something that will drive her to succeed even more than what she has possibly been experiencing in the more traditional setting.

  • Bryant


    October 3rd, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    I would have thought that making them have an earlier bed time could have been a solution but I think back to my own teen years and it is like I magically got my days and nights mixed up- I couldn’t go to sleep until well into the a.m and then naturally I didn’t want to get up when it as time to get going for school!

  • taylor f.

    taylor f.

    October 4th, 2014 at 5:07 AM

    Teenagers today have a lot of different things going on in their lives and lots of activities on their plate, I understand that. There are things that we could do to make thier lives a little easier and I think that a large part of that probably starts when they are young and having them establish good habits. But they also need to understand that as much as we can help do for them when they are younger, there is not way that this can continue when they are adults because there are very few people who will make accommodations for them once they are adults and very few people who will accept this kind fo modification in the workplace eventually. You have to power through at times.

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