What Parents Can Do When Sleep and School Don't Mix
I don't know about the morning routine in your home, but getting my son up in time for school on Monday is like pulling a grouchy sleep-deprived badger from its hole. He’s groggy, mumbles one-word answers…and he’s supposed to take a math test when he gets to class? This can't be good. (Parents, can you relate?)
As if having a teen isn't enough of a challenge, we've made it harder by depriving them of sleep, what Shakespeare poetically calls that "good dullness."
Teens have sleep needs and sleep schedules that are different from adults'. They gulp sleep. It's like oxygen. But because so many schools start earlier than 8:30 am (against doctor’s urging), only 15 percent of teens get an adequate amount of sleep, prompting an epidemic of overtiredness among adolescents.
So what can parents and teachers do to help teens when sleep and school don't mix? We can:
- Have compassion. (I'm learning not to lose my temper, for instance, when my son won't get out of bed. And to breathe.)
- Understand the sleep changes of this stage. For example: Know that teens need over nine hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and that it's natural to for teens to be unable to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
- Teach teens about sleep and its brain-development benefits. Start by showing them PBS Frontline’s Inside The Teenage Brain from Zzzzz's to A's, and have them keep a sleep diary and record their experiences.
- Educate your school district about the benefits of later school start times.
- Circulate sleep research among colleagues and parent friends. (A teacher friend sent me the recent New York Times article “Why Schools Are Slow To Learn That Sleep Deprivation Hits Teens The Hardest.” It was a wake-up call.)
Think of the fresh, ready-to-learn, awake geniuses your kids could be with the right amount of rest. We all need to count sheep—teens most of all.