A few nights after bringing my son home, and being kept awake all night, I remember thinking, I can’t wait until this kid is like 8 and can put himself to bed.
Fast forward 14 years and I have the opposite problem: I can’t get him (or my 12-year-old daughter) out of bed in the morning. I walk in their rooms each morning and try to peel them out of their caves to get ready for school, and it looks like it physically hurts them. Getting teenagers to wake up is apparently not in my wheelhouse.
On the weekends or during vacations, it’s rare if they show their face before 10. It drove me crazy when they first started doing this. I wondered if it was boredom or depression until I took a second to remind myself it wasn’t that long ago when sleeping late into the morning was my favorite thing to do. When I was a teen, on the days when my calendar was free, I didn’t lie in bed and drift and doze to piss my mother off either. My body fell into a deep sleep and didn’t want to rouse, even if I had gone to bed at a decent hour the night before.
It’s not just laziness or teenage angst. There is a reason most teenagers like to get their best beauty sleep during the late morning and early afternoon hours. And there is evidence that shows we should let them slumber.
We all know adequate sleep is imperative to our immune system, health, and overall brain function. But teens’ sleep cycles are different in that they get their burst of melatonin, the sleep hormone, later than adults and younger children. This causes them to stay up later. So naturally they want to sleep later, and when they have to rise early, they often feel groggy and unable to focus.
Just the other night I tried to get my son to bed by 9, so I could go to sleep. I didn’t want him up too late because I knew he had a busy week coming up. He would be texting, and scrolling Facebook, and eating sugary junk until god knows when. He was floored — he said, “Mom, how do you expect me to fall asleep at 9?” I suggested he read a book, but he said he was too wound up to even lie in bed. You would have thought I was trying to get him to eat a bag of cockroaches.
So not being able to fall asleep at a decent hour, paired with caffeinated drinks, and other stimuli (phones) combined with teens’ typically busy weekdays is a recipe for a big mess. It is taking a toll on their academics and their mental health, not to mention their safety when they are driving or doing other things which require deep concentration.
This is an age when they are learning so much; not just in school either. It’s a time of growth and self-discovery outside of the classroom as well. There is a lot happening in those teenage brains, and in order to process it all to the best of their ability, they need as much sleep as they can get.
While I wish I could force my kids to go to bed a bit earlier, I do things in the evening that seem to help, such as keeping the house dark around 8 p.m., keeping them off electronics right before bedtime, and making sure they aren’t drinking soda after 7 p.m. It doesn’t work as well as I would like, but it does help them settle in for the night a bit better.
To combat this cycle, something they can’t really help, I’ve decided whenever I can, I’ll just let my teenager sleep in. Without complaint. His mental health, safety, and how he performs at school are more important than him rising by 8 a.m. on Saturday simply because I think he should. Or because I feel like he is somehow wasting the day away.
When they are properly rested, teenagers are far more easy to deal with, so I consider it a win-win for everyone in the family. Besides, the time will come soon enough (but not too damn soon) when he needs to stay up all night worrying about his own children. I should let him enjoy this deep, restful sleep phase while it lasts.