Maintaining a healthy biological clock as a teen.

Maintaining a healthy biological clock as a teen.

Do you remember way back when you were obsessed with your newborn’s sleep routine? You would go out of your way to make sure that they got enough sleep. If you didn’t, your beautiful angel turned into a difficult, screaming little monster.

You may not be dealing with tantrums anymore, but the same attention should be paid to your teen’s sleep. As with everything else in your teen’s life, the need for sleep and the time he needs to sleep is changing1. Your child’s body clock is shifting.


Is Your Teen Getting Enough Sleep?

Every parent has turned to Google to find out how much sleep their young child should be getting every night. So, you are well aware that sleep is an important part of a healthy life. In the first few years it may have been for your own sanity. But as your child gets older and more independent a lack of sleep is a recipe for difficulty in the classroom2 and mood disorders such as depression3.

Perhaps not surprisingly research has found that our teens are not getting enough good quality sleep4. Their lives are extremely busy and they are experiencing pressure in every part of their lives.

Reasons for sleep deprivation in teens include5:

  • Going to bed too late
  • Having to get up early for school
  • Time pressure related to school, sports and peers
  • The use of electronic devices
  • Sleep disorders
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD


Body Clock Changes in Teenagers

The teenage years are a time filled with changes. It is a time of fluctuating sex hormones, growth, and brain development. It is important to pay attention to your teen’s health and lifestyle choices, including nutrition and sleep.

According to the experts, teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep per night6. Sleep is essential for physical health, maintaining a healthy weight, good mental health, and cognitive ability7.

Our need for sleep is controlled by two things1:

  1. The length of time we have been awake.
  2. Our internal clock or circadian rhythm.

Our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, controls almost all functions in the body. But, the sleep-wake cycle is something we often refer to as our circadian rhythm. It is the function we are most aware of.

The human body runs on a 24-hour cycle. It is influenced by light. When the sun rises we are programmed to wake up and when it sets we start getting sleepy8.

Between the ages of ten to twelve years, the circadian rhythm starts to shift. While you have been used to tucking your child into bed for the night between 8pm and 9pm, they are now only ready to sleep between 10pm and 11pm9. It may look like they have insomnia. They toss and turn, get up for a glass of water or sneak their phone into their bed. In reality, their body is just not ready to sleep.


Working With Your Teen’s Circadian Rhythm

Knowing that your teen can now only fall asleep at about 10 o’clock, and that they need to be out of bed early enough to get to school on time, it is vital that you help your teenager manage their sleep routine.

Everything your teen does during the day may influence their quality of sleep. offers the following recommendations to help you and your teenager maintain a healthy circadian rhythm10:

1. The circadian rhythm is responsive to light – especially sunlight. Making sure to get your teen outside into the sun, preferably earlier in the day. It keeps the body clock running on schedule.

2. Encourage your teen to go to bed at the same time every night. The body thrives on routine.

3. Daily exercise can make falling asleep at night a lot easier. Make sure your teen is not spending all of his free time on the couch.

4. We generally don’t want our teens to be consuming too much caffeine. But if they have trouble falling asleep, it may be a good idea to avoid it all together.

5. We are all guilty of spending too much time on our devices. The exposure to the blue light our screens emit in the hour or two before we go to bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

6. Our teens are all a little sleep deprived. If they need a nap in the afternoon, make sure it is early in the afternoon and not longer than a cat-nap.


Nutrition For A Healthy Body Clock

What else can you do to support your teen’s circadian rhythm? A regular routine is important, but equally important is diet and good nutrition.

As with everything else your teen has to do in a day, eating needs to happen at regular intervals as well. Research has shown that when you eat affects your circadian rhythm11.

The link between breakfast and class-room concentration article

A teen’s energy requirements are relatively high. The best way to make sure they eat as much as they need to grow and mature is to eat breakfast, lunch and supper, with healthy snacks in between.

There are also certain micronutrients that support sleep. They can make falling asleep and having a good night’s sleep a bit easier. They include: gamma-amino-butyric-acid (GABA)12, the amino acids taurine14, glycine13 and L-theanine12, magnesium15, and zinc16.


Conclusion – Support The Body Clock For Happier Healthier Teens

As the body and mind grow and mature during adolescence, the timing for sleep changes. Your teen needs plenty of sleep if they are to achieve academically and have enough energy to get through their busy days.

Supporting the circadian rhythm with a regular routine and a healthy diet will give your teen the energy and mental ability to succeed in the classroom, on the sports’ field and socially.



1. Sleep and Teens – UCLA Sleep Disorders Center – Los Angeles, CA [Internet]. 2021 [cited 17 August 2021]. Available from:
2. Van Dongen H, Maislin G, Mullington J, Dinges D. The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology From Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation. Sleep. 2003;26(2):117-126.
3. CHEN M, BURLEY H, GOTLIB I. Reduced sleep quality in healthy girls at risk for depression. Journal of Sleep Research. 2011;21(1):68-72.
4. Wheaton A, Jones S, Cooper A, Croft J. Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2015. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2018;67(3):85-90.
5. Sleep for Teenagers | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. 2021 [cited 17 August 2021]. Available from:
6. Paruthi S, Brooks L, D’Ambrosio C, Hall W, Kotagal S, Lloyd R et al. Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for Healthy Children: Methodology and Discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2016;12(11):1549-1561.
7. Kotagal S. Sleep Disorders in Adolescents. Sleep Medicine. 2017;34:248.
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9. CARSKADON M, ACEBO C, JENNI O. Regulation of Adolescent Sleep: Implications for Behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2004;1021(1):276-291.
10. What Is Circadian Rhythm? | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. 2021 [cited 17 August 2021]. Available from:
11. Wehrens S, Christou S, Isherwood C, Middleton B, Gibbs M, Archer S et al. Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System. Current Biology. 2017;27(12):1768-1775.e3.
12. Kim S, Jo K, Hong K, Han S, Suh H. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharmaceutical Biology. 2019;57(1):64-72.
13. Razak M, Begum P, Viswanath B, Rajagopal S. Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017;2017:1-8.
14. Jakaria M, Azam S, Haque M, Jo S, Uddin M, Kim I et al. Taurine and its analogs in neurological disorders: Focus on therapeutic potential and molecular mechanisms. Redox Biology. 2019;24:101223.
15. Using Magnesium for Better Sleep | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. 2021 [cited 18 August 2021]. Available from:
16. Cherasse Y, Urade Y. Dietary Zinc Acts as a Sleep Modulator. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2017;18(11):2334.

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