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Written by Keryn O’Neill MA, PGCertEdPsych, Knowledge Manager

Adolescence, which starts with puberty and ends in the early to mid-twenties, is a period of amazing development in many areas, including the brain. There are many changes and opportunities, and some vulnerabilities. Their experiences during this time will influence their development. One important factor is the amount of sleep they get.

How much sleep do rangatahi need, and actually get?*

  • Rangatahi need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night.
  • On average, they sleep for fewer than 7 hours each night.
  • NZ studies found many rangatahi (from one third, to more than half) reported poor quality or not enough sleep.

*See article below for full references

Sleep changes in adolescence

Sleep patterns change during adolescence. Two broad categories of change are:

Biological changes

  • Melatonin is released later at night during adolescence, delaying circadian rhythms. This means that rangatahi tend to not feel tired until later at night.
  • Sleep pressure (also called the homeostatic drive to sleep) builds up more slowly for rangatahi.

Social changes

  • These can include more homework, part-time mahi, and spending more time with friends which contribute to later bedtimes.
  • More independence around bedtimes, and evening screen time, which impacts sleep.

The combination of these changes mean that rangatahi usually stay awake later than they did as tamariki. When they need to wake early, the length of their sleep is often not enough for their healthy development.

Consequences of poor sleep

Lack of sleep can affect every aspect of rangatahi health and development. Examples include increased:

  • mental health challenges (e.g. depression, anxiety)
  • risk taking behaviours (e.g. driving related)
  • self-harm & suicide.

The consequences of not enough sleep are greater than just feeling tired the next day.

Social jetlag

  • Social jetlag occurs when rangatahi wake early on weekdays, and sleep in on weekends, leading to inconsistent sleep times.
  • This can disrupt circadian rhythms, making it even harder to get enough sleep.
  • Social jetlag is associated with increased difficulties in several areas, including academic performance, behaviour and thinking.

Supporting rangatahi to get enough sleep

The following can support rangatahi to get the sleep they need:

  • warm, positive family environment
  • adults in the whānau modeling good sleep habits
  • good sleep hygiene (e.g. a relaxing routine before bed)
  • physical activity during the day (but not too close to bedtime)
  • encouragement from whānau to adopt behaviours that support enough sleep (e.g. time off devices prior to sleep).

Points to note

  • Rangatahi who have experienced adversity may have more difficulty getting enough sleep, and require more adult support to do so.
  • Lack of sleep affects rangatahi more than it does adults, due to their stage of development.

To sum up

  • Sleep is important for rangatahi health, wellbeing and development.
  • Sleep patterns typically change in adolescence, due to both biological and social factors.
  • Rangatahi need 8 to10 hours of sleep, but many don’t get what they need.
  • Parents and whānau can support rangatahi to get the sleep they need
  • Poor sleep worsens many of the challenges rangatahi face.

Want to know more?

See this article for more detail, and references:

Why sleep matters for rangatahi