Why “sleeping in” on weekends isn’t good for teens

Dennis Rosen, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

After getting too little sleep Monday through Friday, many teens try to catch up on weekends, sometimes straggling out of bed after noon. While they may feel like they are doing their bodies a favor, they actually aren’t.

A whopping 80% of teens sleep fewer than the recommended nine hours per night, especially during the school week. Staying up late in the evening to finish school work, take part in extracurricular activities, and spend time with friends and family means they often struggle to wake up on time for school. A few days of this can build up a significant sleep deficit.

Sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday may fill that deficit, but it creates a bigger problem. It allows your teen’s inner clock to further drift away from the external clock, worsening the shift begun by delaying bedtime on school nights. The result: the circadian sleep is thrown out of whack, which makes it much more difficult to get up at the usual wake time.

In effect, by sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday, your teen is suffering from the equivalent of a five-hour jet lag when it’s time to get up on Monday morning. The alarm clock may be saying 6:00 am, but his or her inner clock is reading 1:00 am. This will make it much harder for your teen to concentrate and take in anything at school. When this becomes a regular pattern, it can also have a significant effect on mood.

The greater your child’s tendency to shift her or his inner clock, the stricter you should be about enforcing something close to the weekday schedule on weekends. Sleeping in more than an hour beyond the usual wake up time is asking for trouble when Monday comes around again.

Here are some things you can do to help your teen wake up and get out of bed at a reasonable hour on weekends and so avoid resetting his or her inner clock:

  • Explain the importance of keeping to relatively consistent bed times and wake-up times on weekends and weekdays. Your teen may not like it, but will at least understand why you are getting him or her up and out of bed on weekend mornings.
  • Expose your teen to lots of bright light in the morning. Nothing tells the brain it’s time to wake up more than bright light. Turn on all the lights in the bedroom, and open all the shades and curtains. Consider using a timer to turn on bedroom lights, and keep the lights on in the kitchen or breakfast nook.
  • Set an alarm clock (or two, timed a few minutes apart) positioned across the room and out of reach from the bed. Your teen may be much more tempted to roll over and go back to sleep while still under the convers than after she or he has already gotten out of bed.
  • Plan a morning outing with your teen. This might be an early-morning trip to a coffee shop for a hot drink and a pastry, or a yoga class you can do together.
  • Don’t let your teen watch TV for at least the first two hours after waking up. You want him or her to be up and active, not lying down in a darkened family room watching cartoons.
  • Say “no” to napping during the day. Napping will reduce your teen’s sleep deficit and make it very hard to fall asleep at night which, in turn, will make it harder for her or him to wake up the next morning.

To learn more about how you can help your child get a better night’s sleep, check out The Harvard Medical School Guide to Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. This new ebook has just been published by Harvard Health Publishing and Rosetta.


  1. Wood Railing

    The poster who advocates for starting school later seems oblivious to the reason teens are sleepy in the morning: they stay up too late. Waking up with the sun and going to sleep at night fall is ingrained in human DNA but the ever-increasing use of artificial lights and now all manner of screens has disrupted these patterns.

  2. Alfred

    “If you sleep in at weekends, you get less sleep on Monday and Tuesday,” says Dr. Trock. If your teen needs to catch up on sleep, encourage him to take an afternoon nap – but don’t let him sleep long enough or late enough to disrupt that evening’s sleep.

  3. Colm

    Definitely sleeping patterns affect moods. If I am up late a few nights in a row I become very irritable!

  4. Tratamiento problemas sueño Alicante

    This loss of sleep on weekdays, may end up causing a progressive reduction of the number of hours of continuous, foram dream if only an hour a day represents a cumulative deficit seproduce not recover more than the weekend try many more hours sleep, on the contrary, during adolescence is the time when various hypothesized that the biological clock of personal suffering an adjustment, and it is at this stage of life, where it is more important to focus on some good Sleep habits and above all, keep them also during Saturdays and Sundays. It is essential to get padrespara involvement.

  5. Daniel Tukavkin

    Your points on how to help to parent teens to sleep properly are valid but unfortunately I don’t think they’ll actually work. The Saturday sleep in is pretty much required after teens go out on Friday night and maybe a Sunday sleep in for a big night Saturday.

    Teens are doing more and more crazy things such as drinking, drugs, partying harder and with the easy accessibility of newer ‘safer’ stimulant drugs such as Provigil I don’t see this slowing down, in fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed to speed up.

    It’s great to live in a world of ‘perfect sleep cycles’ but the reality is our culture is going to a full speed lifestyle. One type in google to buy Provigil and boom you get site after site of how to get it without a prescription

    Aside from that, the parental modelling of positive sleep cycles is imperative for your teens to even half listen to you. Are you yourself going to bed early and getting up early or are you burning the midnight oil? Do you wakeup looking like a zombie until you get a double espresso (or a Provigil) into you?

    Good article and great actionable content, but I doubt it’s effectiveness in the real world.

    My dad brought me up with a glass of water on the face. That works. You learn real fast! (I can still wakeup when someone walks into my room silently, like I have special ESP radar or something)

  6. rubel rahman

    Thank you for this article, I truly appreciate it. I can’t say I have experienced this disorder on a continual basis, however, I have one distinct memory of feeling extremely depressed upon discovering another gloomy day on a weekend that I was expecting sunshine. I have such a vivid recollection because the depressed feeling was so powerful that it really concerned me. I had never experienced that before. I have since moved to Phoenix Arizona where the sun shines over 90% of the time and I haven’t experienced that SAD feeling since.

    I am also a practitioner of Pilates and can’t agree more in it’s benefits with the mind, emotion, and body.

    Thanks again,

  7. Onuobasi Oluchukwu

    This really helpful, as i will print it out for my teen brother to read.
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  8. Kevin

    The tips shows here about sleeping late effect is great detail i didn’t know that but now try to justify it to my child.

  9. Harsen

    Seeing people who are always in the minds of human sidelines who are in a comfortable position is always embedded thought, “Thank God yaa. . . I was given a delicious, not like they sit down & slept sober “.

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  10. Berni Clavel

    I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent who finds it increasingly difficult to forcibly make ourselves coax, cajole and threaten our kids so they
    could be on the ” early to bed, early to rise” healthy sleeping routine. Tv, x- box, Internet games, plus their mandatory homework … Who can compete with that? This article really positively impact modern- day parenting … Thank you so much…

  11. Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD

    Love all the strategies, but even teens with impeccable sleep hygiene often can’t get close to enough sleep when they’re required to be in class at 7 a.m. Unless we work as a community to ensure school hours that are compatible with adolescent sleep needs, we’re going to have a generation of sleep-deprived zombies. Please encourage the health community to advocate for later school start times (certainly after the 8 a.m. hour) instead of just putting all the burden on individual students and families. Like so many other public health problems, this one is going to take community effort and social reforms to resolve. Please see http://www.startschoollater.net for more information.

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