Does this situation sound familiar? A wonderful fifteen-year-old boy, who is cooperative and pleasant, is not a morning person and getting him up to start his work by 9:00 AM makes Shackleton’s adventure to the South Pole look like a Caribbean Cruise. You tried letting him rise on his own timetable and choose when to start his academics, but that just made the day drag on and on, leaving him no free time. So you tried setting a start time, and if he was late, he lost a privilege for something significant to him, but that still didn’t provide enough motivation to avoid battles. You are sure he is getting to bed too late, but he is a night guy (like one of his parents, but we won’t say which one). Which route do you take with this?
Studies on melatonin secretion show that teens function best at late at night. Research on melatonin levels reveals that “melatonin secretion occurs at a later time in adolescents as they mature; thus, it is difficult for them to go to sleep earlier at night. The melatonin secretion also turns off later in the morning, which makes it harder to wake up early (Carskadon et al., 1998).” The National Sleep Foundation says that adolescents have “more alertness at 8 pm than earlier in the day, and even greater alertness at 10 pm,” making it hard for teens to fall asleep even when sent to bed at a reasonable time. As a result, many schools have switched to later start times for high school students because studies show that teens learn better if they get enough sleep: “Academic performance outcomes, including grades earned in core subject areas of math, English, science and social studies, plus performance on state and national achievement tests, attendance rates and reduced tardiness show significantly positive improvement with the later start times of 8:35 AM or later.” (“Examining the Impact of Later High School Start Times,: Wahlstrom et al.)
As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to be flexible for each child, and include our students in the planning stages. Perhaps you could consider an academic start time of 9:30 AM this year, 9:00 AM next year, and then possibly 8:30 AM the following year in hopes of helping him shift toward a schedule that is more accommodating for summer jobs and college. Another approach might be to discuss his night pattern. We have a "no screens after 10" rule, and since my teens believe life doesn’t exist without a screen, this allows their bodies time to settle; I’ve observed that it is difficult for kids to pay attention to their physical needs when they have a screen in front of them.
One routine for sleep that is related to productivity for adults is the 10-3-2-1-0 approach:
- 10 hours before bed: No more caffeine
- 3 hours before bed: No more food
- 2 hours before bed: No more work
- 1 hour before bed: No more screen time
- 0: The number of times you hit the snooze button in the morning
The part of me that wanted to get the teens out of bed instead of letting them get enough sleep always won on weekdays; so much for flexibility. I didn't let my kids sleep past 8:00 AM; but in hindsight, I see that it was just one of many methods that can be used. Now that my youngest is in PSEO and doesn't have to get up until 8:45 AM for his first class at 10, I see that reality beat out my idealism.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I finally hear my children value their sleep enough to determine a reasonable bedtime, which has yet to happen before the age of 22. In the meantime, thoughts dance in my head about the early bird, the ten o’clock scholar, the studies supporting later start times, and the realities of melatonin shifts in the teenager who is still banging doors in my house at midnight.