Dear Susan,

Our son sleeps a lot. He is 16 and sometimes doesn’t wake up until 1pm on the weekends. Even on school mornings he is grouchy and difficult to wake up. I heard that people who are depressed sleep too much too, so this is a worry. He says that he is not depressed, but I am not so sure. Isn’t what I heard true?

R. London


Dear R.,

Yes and no. People suffering from depression may experience changes in sleeping patterns, which can include sleeping too much or too little, difficulty falling asleep or waking early. But sleeping long hours does not necessarily indicate depression, especially in a teenager.

Until recently, many parents considered their teen’s desire to sleep in as a sign of laziness, or a sign that they were staying up too late at night. However, recent research has proven otherwise.

Studies are now showing that many teens are in a state of nearly constant sleep deprivation. While the average teen sleeps just over 7 hours a night, healthy teenagers actually need about nine or ten hours of sleep per night. It seems logical to parents that the reasonable solution would be to force your teenager to go to bed earlier; however, nature plays a cruel trick on teens. At the same time in their lives that they require more sleep, research is also proving that a teenager’s circadian or biological clock pushes them to stay awake later and later at night (this changes in their 20’s). It also explains why when you are ready to fall asleep on your feet, they want to start chatting with friends or begin their homework!

In light of the fact that sleep deprivation can have serious health and learning consequences, there are schools in the States that are experimenting with later school start times.

So what can you do to help?

First, understand that your son’s sleeping may not excessive and that he is probably not being intentionally problematic in the morning.
Encourage him to take a short early afternoon nap (after school perhaps) to help give them the energy to do homework or pursue an activity.
Cut out caffeine (sodas, iced tea, chocolate) from mid-afternoon on.
Encourage your son to manage his time, so that late night is reserved for quiet activities, such as reading a book or wrapping up his homework. Use the early evening hours for phone and Internet chatting or stimulating movies/television.
In the morning, pull open the curtains and let the sun shine in or encourage him to get outside into the sunshine right away. This will help his circadian clock realize it’s morning, and time to shift into awake mode.
In light of this research and although you do not mention anything in your letter which alerts me to your son being depressed, it would be prudent to schedule an appointment with your family physician, just to rule out any other reason for your son’s sleepiness.