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Is Your Teen Starting School in a Sleep Haze?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If your teens are like mine, they love to stay up late, are difficult to get up in the morning, and would sleep until noon if you let them. That is what teens do, especially when they are growing. Teens often make difficult choices and trade-offs when trying to allocate time among school, work, extra-curricular activities, friends and family. Many times those choices are at the expense of sleep.
Studies suggest teens need at least nine hours of sleep each night; however, many are only getting around seven hours a night on average. When sleep is limited on school nights, students can go to school too sleepy to learn. Having trouble staying awake increases the chances of missing important information being taught while also risking the loss of a teacher's respect.
A recent study published online in the journal Child Development reports that teens who stay up late to cram for tests tend to do poorly on the test they studied for because of sleep-related academic problems. Researchers also found that the problem compounds over time as academic rigor increases. Now that teens are back to school, will late-night studying to stay on top of their tough academic schedule sabotage their success? Here are some keys to help your student make the most of their study time and their sleep.

  • Help your student establish a consistent study schedule. This should include a quiet and undistracted place to study as well as time that isn't hurried because of other responsibilities.

  • Help students learn to distribute study time for upcoming quizzes and tests evenly over several days prior to reduce the need to cram the night before.

  • Help your student establish a set school night bedtime based on the time they must be up in the morning and NOT on social schedules, outings, or media. The "lights out" policy should include all computers, TV, lights, and cell phones being turned off. Soft music can be helpful for teens to relax and drift off to sleep. (As the parent of a teenage son, I realize this is a tough sell. However, if your student has struggled in the past to stay awake or to stay focused in school, it is a battle worth having to get the school year off on the right foot.)

  • Help your teen establish an evening routine that slows them down at the end of the day including limiting the consumption of caffeine containing products after dinner. Taking a shower, pleasure reading or playing a board game with the family (a parent can dream, can't they?) are great options, in addition to other easy relaxation techniques. Even if studying is necessary close to bedtime, winding down with a leisure activity before lights out is a healthy practice to establish. 

  • Watch for signs of sleep deprivation in your teen especially if they have their license and are driving. The National Sleep Foundation offers these signs:
    • Difficulty waking in the morning
    • Irritability in the afternoon
    • Falling asleep during the day
    • Oversleeping on the weekend
    • Having difficulty remembering or concentrating
    • Waking up often and having trouble going back to sleep
Sleep deprivation can also lend to extreme moodiness and increases the risk of car accidents from drowsiness or falling asleep behind the wheel.

Do you think the early start time of high schools contributes to the teens sleep difficulties? What time do you think high schools should start to meet the needs of teenage students?

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EVILCECIL 4/8/2020
Good points. Thanks. Report
I agree with MARYKEANSL. Our church-school starts at 8:45, which I think is the best time. Teens need time to wake up, and it is proven to be better. Do what's best for the kids, not for your interests! Report
Great article! Report
Cell phones exacerbate the issue Report
I had a strict 9p bedtime and even though I slept like the dead I STILL would fall asleep in my first 2 classes. Even as an adult 9 hours is my optimal. Report
I disagree MARYJEANSL. Public schools do not start at 9 a.m. They actually start cass no later then 8:15 and if you are a part of certain clubs you need to be there as eary as 6:00 in the morning. When I was in school, we started at 7:15 but arrived at 6:30 because of my activities so it is still a struggle. I participated in sports, Student Council, TRU Club, SADD Club, JROTC and other activities. I struggled with my sleep and having down time with friends so it doesn't matter what school you go to. One might think that I put it on myself but I believe I managed okay since I eventualy set a sleep, study and fun time schedule that suited me. Students will struggle for sleep and it is up to them to make up a schedule set to their time limits and activities to not skimp as much on sleep. Report
Around here, most private high schools start at 7:30 or 8, while the public high schools don't start until 9. Although my general opinion of the public high schools isn't high, I do like the fact that they start later. I believe it helps the kids. My two high school graduates went to private schools and were always sleepy. It was not good for them. Report
Most people like the earlier start times for high school so that 1)kids can do sports or extracurriculars in the afternoons and 2)its helpful for kids with afterschool/part time jobs.
I wish more parents followed the advice of having their kids turn off and put up cell phones, ipods, laptops, etc. at bedtime. This generation needs to learn how to unplug and sleep is important. Report
I know when I was in HS starting late would have been nice - I think now some schools in that area are trying. Report
This really isn't a matter of opinion anymore. There is overwhelming research showing the link between the extremely early school hours that became common a few decades ago, teen sleep deprivation, and a huge number of serious health and learning problems. There is also clear evidence - despite some of the comments, below - that when school starts a bit later in the morning, teens actually get substantially more sleep per night. The problem isn't the evidence; it's the will to change in most communities (plus our prejudice in this country against sleep, which we see as a sign of physical and spiritual weakness). Instead of blaming the victim by telling teens to find a way to get enough sleep (it simply is not possible for many of them when they have to be up at 5 or 6 am), we need to address this issue as a public health issue, not something to be determined by lay school boards. For more info, see . Report
All good points! Report
Not to be negative, but these are also could be signs of narcolepsy. I had most of these signs and they were attributed to me being a teen and/or lazy and guess what! Yup, I have narcolepsy. I did not find out until I was 37. Most people are never diagnosed. If the teen gets on a regular schedule and is still having problems, please find out if there is something else wrong. Report
This is so important for all with teens as we start a new year. It is even helpful for adults to remember to get enough sleep. Report
The articles I have read about this came to the conclusion that teens need more sleep.
With most family schedules and working parents that will be a problem for many families. Pat in Maine.
I suspect that the early start of high schools is because of bus schedules, so they can get the high school students to class and then get the elementary students. Report
I had chorus practice or gymnastics practice at 7am every morning before classes began back in the 60s. My granddaughters now have swim practice at 6am. We all did (do) homework immediately after school then were in bed by 9 or 10. Why don't kids do that today? Report
My daughter's first class starts at 7:35. She is a junior. Although it's early I do not think having the day start later would result in her getting more sleep. In my case, I know she would try to go to sleep later if school started later. Report