Overcoming Lethargy as a Teenager

Overcoming Lethargy as a Teenager

Do any of these words describe your teenager? Sleepy, always tired, low mood, lack of motivation. Do they struggle to wake up on time for school in the morning? Do they give a hundred and one excuses for why they can’t go to tennis practice? Do they seem to have no motivation to do the things they would normally enjoy doing?

It is quite common for teens to have a lack of energy and enthusiasm1. In fact the lethargic, disinterested teen has become a stereotype. But, why do our teens battle with low energy levels and motivation?

It could be something as simple as not getting enough sleep. Going to bed too late, waking up too early or having their sleep disrupted will definitely make them tired. They may be under strain from being too busy. Or they could be battling with depression or anxiety. Are they eating well2?

With so many changes taking place in their bodies and their lives, it is no wonder teenagers struggle sometimes.


Pay Attention to Sleep, Stress and Diet to Help Your Teen Overcome Lethargy

There are some things that you have no control over when it comes to your teen’s mood. Fluctuating hormones and growth spurts can make a person feel quite miserable. But, there are many things that you can influence. Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way towards your teenager being healthy, happy and full of energy and enthusiasm. The three main areas to look at are: sleep, stress and diet.



The ever-changing sleep requirements of children is enough to keep parents on their toes. Just when you think you have finally figured it out, they enter the tween years and it all starts to change again.

Your child’s circadian rhythm starts to shift between the ages of ten and twelve years3. The circadian rhythm is often referred to as the body clock. It controls the timing of many processes in the body, including the sleep-wake cycle.

You may find that your almost-teenager has started struggling to get to sleep at night. There may be something on their mind, but it could be that their sleep-wake cycle is evolving into a pattern that resembles the sleep pattern of an adult. They only start to feel sleepy later at night and want to wake up later in the morning4.

The problem with this new sleep pattern is that they still need to get up early to get to school on time4. The circadian phase delay leaves them a bit sleep deprived throughout the school week. And then they make up for it over the weekend – sleeping in until the late hours of the morning.

Having a different sleep pattern over the weekend compared to during the week, can interrupt the natural circadian rhythm resulting in what is called delayed sleep phase syndrome5. It becomes a vicious circle where your teen goes to bed later and later and is only ready to wake up later.



Research looking at people’s stress levels repeatedly shows that the modern teenager is dealing with more stress than ever. In fact, teenage stress levels have overtaken those of adults6.

There is increased pressure at school. They commit to too many after school activities. And social media puts a whole new spin on relationships and peer pressure.

Running from one thing to another and dealing with fluctuating emotions can sap their energy levels. It can even leave them feeling anxious and/or depressed. If left unchecked, it can result in a lack of motivation, moodiness and lethargy7.



When you are feeling tired or you are feeling under pressure, your diet is often the first thing to suffer. Your body starts craving foods that are going to make you feel better – fast8.

A burger and fries, a pizza or fried chicken has a lot more appeal than Mom’s lovingly  prepared healthy meal. Sweet cravings also kick in. Muffins, cakes, doughnuts, chocolates and sweets become irresistible.



Again, it becomes a vicious circle. The more unhealthy food you choose to eat, the more difficult it becomes to resist it. And the worse you start to feel. Your energy levels drop and your moods start to fluctuate. Adults may be more aware that food may be an issue. But when it comes to teens, it can be difficult for them to see the connection.


Healthy Habits to Overcome Teen Lethargy

Overcoming teen lethargy may seem like a lost cause. But, with a few healthy lifestyle changes, you will have an energized, motivated teen.


5 Tips to Overcome Lethargy:

  1. Work with the body clock – make sure your teen goes to bed early enough to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
  2. Limit screen time – the blue light exposure, especially in the last hour or two before bedtime interferes with the production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep9.
  3. Observe your teen for sleep disruption – it could be a problem in the sleep environment, or it could be something like sleep apnea10.
  4. Ensure a healthy, balanced diet – we can’t eat perfectly all of the time, but make sure your teen is eating regular, balanced meals that contain whole grain carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  5. Exercise – the human body loves exercise. It helps to manage stress, it releases feel-good hormones and it helps us sleep better.


While it may be normal for teenagers to experience lethargy from time to time, it should not be an on-going problem. To overcome it, support the many changes your teenager is experiencing in their body by prioritizing sleep and other healthy lifestyle habits.



  1. Findlay S. The tired teen: A review of the assessment and management of the adolescent with sleepiness and fatigue. Paediatrics & Child Health. 2008;13(1):37-42.
  2. Viner R, Clark C, Taylor S, Bhui K, Klineberg E, Head J et al. Longitudinal Risk Factors for Persistent Fatigue in Adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2008;162(5):469.
  3. Crowley S, Van Reen E, LeBourgeois M, Acebo C, Tarokh L, Seifer R et al. A Longitudinal Assessment of Sleep Timing, Circadian Phase, and Phase Angle of Entrainment across Human Adolescence. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(11):e112199.
  4. Phillips A, Clerx W, O’Brien C, Sano A, Barger L, Picard R et al. Irregular sleep/wake patterns are associated with poorer academic performance and delayed circadian and sleep/wake timing. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1).
  5. Nesbitt A. Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2018;10(S1):S103-S111.
  6. [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2 September 2021]. Available from:
  7. Identifying signs of stress in your children and teens [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2 September 2021]. Available from:
  8. Peters A. Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed? [Internet]. Scientific American. 2021 [cited 2 September 2021]. Available from:
  9. Tähkämö L, Partonen T, Pesonen A. Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm. Chronobiology International. 2018;36(2):151-170.
  10. Kansagra S. Sleep Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2020;145(Supplement 2):S204-S209.
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