Of Sleep and Teenagers

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If you homeschool teens, you are probably already aware of some of the advantages that homeschooling offers students: flexibility, working at their own pace, matching courses to their interests. But you may not have thought of this one: sleep. While sleep may not be the first advantage homeschooling parents think of, it is an important one.

Why Teenagers Need to Sleep

National Jewish Health in Colorado studied the sleep patterns of 2612 students, including nearly 500 homeschoolers. They found that the homeschooled students slept an average of ninety minutes more per night. On average, homeschooled students woke up eighteen minutes after their public and private schooled peers were already in class. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics statement, “insufficient sleep [is] an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.”

Why is this significant? Teenagers need around nine hours of sleep per night, with most needing 9 ¼ hours.

The consequences of lack of sleep are alarming:

  • various illnesses, including an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular issues
  • acne and other skin problems
  • decreased attention span
  • lowered ability to learn, listen, concentrate, and solve problems
  • overeating and obesity
  • increased intake of caffeine
  • higher likelihood of using nicotine and alcohol
  • aggressive behavior
  • depression and suicidal thoughts

Public and private schools with early start times contribute to sleep deprivation in teens. Without even considering the time needed for activities and homework, it is difficult for teens to get enough sleep with early start times. Teenagers experience a shift in their circadian rhythm due to a change in their melatonin. Many of them simply can’t fall asleep before 11:00 p.m., which makes both getting enough sleep and a 7:30 a.m. start time incompatible.

So what happens when students start getting more sleep every night? A Minnesota school that began starting their days more than an hour later saw a significant reduction in dropout rates, less depression, and higher student grades. A study of 9000 students in eight schools and three states by Dr. Kyle Wahlstrom found that later start times improved student grades and standardized test scores, and resulted in a 65% to 70% drop in teen car accidents.

As homeschoolers, many of us can adjust our schedules to accommodate the biological change in our teenagers’ sleep needs. In our home, I begin the day by homeschooling my elementary student, who awakens early on his own. This allows my teen extra time to sleep in. By the time she awakens and completes her Bible study, my son is ready to work on his own for a while, and I can spend time one-on-one with my teen.

Getting Enough Sleep

Besides schedule adjustments, here are some other practical ways you can be sure your teen is getting enough sleep:

  • make sleep a priority
  • establish a consistent bedtime and wakeup time, even on weekends
  • make sure that any naps are short and not too close to bedtime
  • keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark
  • exercise regularly
  • don’t eat, drink, or exercise right before bed
  • avoid caffeine close to bedtime
  • develop a bedtime routine to “train” the body that it is time to go to sleep
  • try to avoid your TV, computer, and phone for an hour before bedtime

 

While “early to bed, early to rise” may apply to adults and younger children, making sure our teens get the optimum amount of sleep is more important to find them, “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Is your teen a night owl or an early riser? How do you accommodate his schedule in your homeschool?

Sources:

http://www.nationaljewish.org/about/mediacenter/pressreleases/2013/homeschool-sleep

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/surprise-students-arent-getting-enough-sleep/379020/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/12/study-homeschoolers-get-more-sleep-may-be-better-prepared-to-learn/

http://www.cehd.umn.edu/carei/news/

Originally published at hedua.com.

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