A User's Guide to a Great Night's Sleep

If you’re like most teens, you’re—yawn!—not getting nearly enough shut-eye each night. Read on to learn the secrets of a super snooze.

You mean to hit the sack early—you really do. But before you know it, it’s past midnight and you’re still doing homework. Now your mind is racing, so you scroll through TikTok while you wait to get sleepy. Hours later you finally turn off your phone, and—BEEP! BEEP!—just when you’ve fallen asleep, your alarm is blaring that it’s time to get up.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. “I am not getting enough sleep by a long shot,” says Vyshnavi, a senior from Georgia. “I sleep about five hours a night, if I’m lucky.” In fact, most teens don’t get enough sleep—which is a problem because your brain processes and stores information from your day while you sleep. Missing too much pillow time makes it hard to focus and remember things, and it increases your risk of long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Plus, you just feel rotten when you’re not well-rested.

The good news is, it’s easy to develop healthy sleep habits. But first you need the facts about how to get the best rest possible. So take this quiz to test how much you know about snoozing, and get ready for the sleep of your dreams. 

1. True or False: You should sleep the same amount on the weekends as on weekdays.

True! It certainly would be convenient if you could make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping past noon on Saturday, but unfortunately, your body doesn’t work that way. “The number one rule of sleep hygiene is to keep as regular a schedule as possible,” says Dr. Laura Sterni, director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center. That means going to bed within an hour of the same time every night and waking up within an hour of the same time every morning, weekends included. It may sound like a drag, but getting into the habit of keeping regular sleep hours (and getting enough of them each night) will pay off in the ability to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. 

2. True or False: Naps are just for little kids.

False! Naps can be great pick-me-ups for everyone, at every age. In fact, some of history’s greatest minds—including Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein—swore by their daily naps. Here’s how to do it right. 

  • Do it early: Aim to nap between the hours of 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Snoozing later in the day may interfere with your bedtime.
  • Get comfy: Take off your shoes, loosen any tight clothing, and cover yourself with a light blanket if the room is chilly. 
  • Keep it short: 20-30 minutes is your goal. Sleep longer and you may have trouble waking up or feel groggy when you do. 

3. True or False: Your mom needs only 7 hours of sleep, so you’re just being lazy if you stay in bed longer than that.

False! According to the Sleep Foundation, teens need 8 to 10 hours of rest each night, while adults need 7 to 9 hours, but everyone is different. You’ll know you’re in the sleep sweet spot if you fall asleep easily each night and can wake up without an alarm. Of course, your school schedule might mean you need to get up earlier than you’d like—and in your teens, you tend to both fall asleep and wake up later than adults. Still, try to go to bed early enough that you’re still getting a full night’s sleep.

4. True or False: Sleep deprived is just a fancy way of saying really tired.

False! We all might get a case of the yawns after a restless night, but true sleep deprivation happens when you’ve gotten less than seven hours of sleep for several nights in a row. When you’re sleep deprived, you struggle to pay attention, learn, and remember­—sleep deprived students can take twice as long to finish homework, says Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness and even depression, as well as physical symptoms like headaches. Chronic sleepiness also affects your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. And you’re not just putting yourself at risk. Drowsy driving (aka driving when you’re sleep deprived) causes an estimated 100,000 accidents each year. So try to get a full night’s sleep every night, take brief naps during the day, and never get behind the wheel if you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open.

5. True or False: Your bed shouldn’t be a rec room (or study hall).

True! Your bed may be the comfiest—and quietest—spot in your house, but hanging out on your mattress while you play video games, watch a movie, or do homework can make your brain associate your bed with non-sleeping activities, making it hard for you to relax when it’s time for sleep. If you don’t have a desk or another place where you can do work or hang out, clear your covers of textbooks, electronics, and any other distractions at least 30 minutes before bed each night. That means no social media or watching a movie on your phone once it’s time for lights-out, either. The light from the screen can interfere with your brain’s ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that signals your body that it’s time for sleep. Reading a book for pleasure or listening to calming music are great ways to relax before bed—just make sure your phone is far out of reach when you hit the hay.

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