Monday, September 8, 2014

Sleepy Time Teens

Since posting my story "Minefield in the Morning" over the weekend, I've had a number of reader-parents ask for more information about the recent report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Apparently, I'm not the only mother who struggles with an adolescent explosive device on a daily basis.)

You can read the entire report online here, but the abstract highlights the salient points:

Chronic sleep loss and associated sleepiness and daytime impairments in adolescence are a serious threat to the academic success, health, and safety of our nation’s youth and an important public health issue. Understanding the extent and potential short- and long-term repercussions of sleep restriction, as well as the unhealthy sleep practices and environmental factors that contribute to sleep loss in adolescents, is key in setting public policies to mitigate these effects and in counseling patients and families in the clinical setting. This report reviews the current literature on sleep patterns in adolescents, factors contributing to chronic sleep loss (ie, electronic media use, caffeine consumption), and health-related consequences, such as depression, increased obesity risk, and higher rates of drowsy driving accidents. The report also discusses the potential role of later school start times as a means of reducing adolescent sleepiness.

It's this last bit that seems to be in our control — or, at least, in the control of our school boards.

Here are some of the specific findings:

... middle school students with a delayed start time of 1 hour for just 1 week performed better than the earlier-starting comparison group on tests requiring attention.

... delaying school start times in 1 community in Kentucky decreased the average [car] crash rate for teenaged drivers by 16.5%, while the state as a whole increased by 7.8% in the same time period.

Students at later-starting middle schools report later rise times, more total sleep on school nights, less daytime sleepiness, less tardiness, fewer attention/concentration difficulties, and better academic performance compared with middle school students at earlier-starting schools.

A variety of associated factors were cited, including adolescent biology, ingestion of caffeine and use of electronic media. But, the overall take-away is that teenagers need more sleep and need to sleep later into the morning. 

So, if science is so absolutely on the side of altering school hours (and this isn't news, btw), why have we all resisted?

For many working parents (including my husband and myself), a later start time would be inconvenient. As it is, my husband does a quick drive-by drop-off that cuts his own arrival at the office very short.

Then there's that all-American work ethic. Y'know? "Early to bed, early to rise ... etc. etc." Well, suffice it to say, Ben Franklin wasn't parenting a teen in 2014. One of the things the AAP is trying to communicate is that teens sleeping later (and we're talking until 7:30 a.m., not noon) isn't a matter of laziness. It's a matter of biology.

But, the biggest reason behind the resistance is sports. In addition to seven or so hours of class, many students participate in athletic teams and clubs. Do the math and you'd find that making the day start an hour later would push these activities into the evening. 

So in essence, sports, which are supposed to make our teenagers healthier, keep them from getting enough sleep which would, in essence, make them healthier.

What a tangled teenage web we weave. And don't even get me started on how this country abandons all reason (not to mention law and order) to worship at the altar of sports. Trust me (and ask my husband and daughter if you don't believe it), we don't want to go there.

So, despite studies and recommendations, I don't see things changing any time soon. For the next two years (at least), my daughter and I will have to agree that getting up early is simply another necessary evil. Like trips to the dentist. And summer homework. And SAT prep. And kale. 

Nothing to do about it. Nothing to complain about. It's just ...

You'd be tired too, parenting such a tired teen.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

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