by Anne Nederveld
Our family has undergone a bit of a shift this year – our middle son started middle school. Somehow, even though we already had one middle school student, this has meant that our whole family now gets up around six. We also have a new puppy, which might have something to do with the early mornings as well! I had always been an early riser, but used to use that time to exercise or work and can’t do that as easily anymore, which is kind of too bad for me personally. However, the worst part of this is that no one is going to bed earlier, so my kids are becoming more sleep deprived than ever before. Catching up on the weekends has become very important, especially to my oldest who has transitioned to the adolescent biologic clock and can’t fall asleep early. She has asked me a few times “why am I so tired?!” The answer is pretty clear – I’m sure she’s not anemic and doesn’t have mono. She doesn’t get enough sleep!
This is a common problem, and there are many reasons for it. I will admit that we are a busy family and part of not being able to go to bed early is that we have stuff going on in the evenings. It’s also hard to go from busy, busy to sleeping without some transition time. So there are some scheduling changes we could make, but we all enjoy our activities and also the time we get to hang out in the evening. I think this is something lots of families deal with.
Another issue is school start times. For the past three years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending that schools not start classes before 8:30 a.m. As is true for my daughter, teens often cannot fall asleep before 10 or 11 p.m., even when they are sleep-deprived. Starting school at 7 or 7:30 means they cannot get the recommended 8 ½ -9 hours of sleep per night. Our district has looked at this, and it would cost about a million dollars to change our current schedule. Maybe this is another thing to add to funding measures, as sleep deprivation is associated with myriad health concerns such as ADHD, mental illness, and obesity. Perhaps this is an area where we could advocate for our children?
In any case, there are a few things you can do to help your kids and yourself get more sleep. You can find lots of good resources online, but here are a few quick suggestions:
1. Continue to follow a bedtime routine, even with older children. This will help them “turn off” at night so they can fall asleep faster. This also includes trying to go to be at the same time every night.
2. Keep bedrooms dark and cool during the hours you want to be asleep but then consider using an alarm that gradually lightens the room when you want to wake up.
3. Do not use screens within an hour (or longer) before you want to BE ASLEEP. The light frequency that screens give off is the same as sunlight, and it confuses our brains into thinking it is still daytime. This may mean taking devices from teens or using parental controls to switch off at a certain time.
4. Doctors used to think catch-up sleep was a good idea, but new research says that’s probably not true. Because of this, it’s important to try to stick to a similar bedtime and get up time on the weekends. An extra hour of sleep in the mornings is fine, but more than that and Monday morning will be accompanied by feelings of “jet-lag, ” and it will be harder to go to bed early.
5. Get exercise and avoid caffeine in the afternoons (or just avoid caffeine for growing kids/teens).
For more information, check out these resources: