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Back to School and Sleep

If your teenagers are like mine, they turn into night owls on weekends, vacations, and any non-school day. This makes sense as they are biologically wired to be awake late into the night and sleep late into the day. But school starts in about 3 weeks and that noon wake up time just isn’t going to cut it. What do you do?

From what I’ve observed, when the first day of school rolls around, the teen has to be at school at 7:30 a.m. when he or she is used to sleeping until noon or later. Ouch! This means the kids start school sleep-deprived. Their self-control, abilities to apply reasoning and logic, and their emotional control are all negatively impacted by this lack of sleep.

There are different approaches for how to handle this. My kids are unfortunate, they might say, in that I start making them correct their schedules weeks before school starts. If I knew they needed to be getting up 6 hours earlier than they were, I started waking them up one hour earlier each week. So noon became 11 a..m. for a week and then 10 a.m. the next, and so forth. That’s a long process and not one I’m saying you have to try. And if you are at work, you might not be able to wake them up with a phone call anyway.

We know that the body’s ability to adjust to time changes, such as traveling, is limited. In fact, it’s limited to being able to adjust to about one time zone, or one hour, of change per day. Knowing this, then, my suggestion to you is that you determine when your teen is getting up, on average, and figure out how many hours different that is from the school schedule. If it’s a six-hour difference, you could begin attempting to get your child up an hour earlier each day. If you want to be a little gentler, make it an hour earlier every two days until you reach the school schedule wake up time. Your kids likely won’t appreciate your efforts (although, to be honest, while mine grumble, they appreciate that they aren’t feeling lousy the first weeks of school they way many of their classmates are), but they will have a healthier adjustment to the start of school and will be in a much better condition mentally and physically to be learning.

You might want to try talking to your teen about this. Many teens will understand, like mine, that working on getting back into a school schedule ahead of school resuming will make their lives easier and the start of school less painful. If they agree to cooperate, your chances of waking them up at the time you desire will go up considerably. Even if you don’t get them on the perfect schedule, closing that gap between their current sleep time and their school wake up time will benefit them and help launch the school year more smoothly. Remember, too, that we are expecting our kids to wake up for school at the precise time they have the highest sleep drive– they are wired to be sleeping at 6:30 in the morning yet our crazy school schedules have them driving to school instead. So keep in mind that we’re expecting a great deal out of our teens as we tell them they need to be awake early in the morning.

Good luck, parents!

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