This article is part of a Special Issue “Puberty and Adolescence”. One of the defining characteristics of adolescence in humans is a large shift in the timing and structure of sleep. Some of these changes are easily observable at the behavioral level, such as a shift in sleep patterns from a relatively morning to a relatively evening chronotype. However, there are equally large changes in the underlying architecture of sleep, including a 60% decrease in slow brain wave activity, which may reflect cortical pruning. In this review we examine the developmental forces driving adolescent sleep patterns using a cross-species comparison. We find that behavioral and physiological sleep parameters change during adolescence in non-human mammalian species, ranging from primates to rodents, in a manner that is often hormone-dependent. However, the overt appearance of these changes is species-specific, with polyphasic sleepers, such as rodents, showing a phase-advance in sleep timing and consolidation of daily sleep/wake rhythms. Using the classic two-process model of sleep regulation, we demonstrate via a series of simulations that many of the species-specific characteristics of adolescent sleep patterns can be explained by a universal decrease in the build-up and dissipation of sleep pressure. Moreover, and counterintuitively, we find that these changes do not necessitate a large decrease in overall sleep need, fitting the adolescent sleep literature. We compare these results to our previous review detailing evidence for adolescent changes in the regulation of sleep by the circadian timekeeping system (Hagenauer and Lee, 2012), and suggest that both processes may be responsible for adolescent sleep patterns.