My 13-year-old stumbled downstairs damn near close to lunchtime today. His younger brother was still sound asleep. Just a few months ago, 8:00 a.m. was considered “sleeping in” for my teen. But now, I’m often awake for hours before our kids – something that seemed like a fantasy a few years ago when we were knee-deep in early mornings and sleep deprivation.
Each day, it becomes increasingly clear that my family is turning into vampires. After schools were closed and we realized that we no longer needed to wake up in time for carpool and school bells, bedtimes began shifting later. And later. And later. Until eventually “bedtime” became a two-hour window that technically happened once the clock had flipped to the a.m. hours.
Because of these new sleep habits, our entire day has shifted. Breakfast is now at noon. Lunch is around 4, and dinner is at 8 or 9. My workday happens in chunks through the day, and I often look at the clock startled to find that it is already 5 p.m. Where the hell did the day go?!? Well, when you don’t start the day until afternoon, numbers on a clock seem meaningless.
A few months ago, our vampire-like sleep patterns would have seemed impossible, but we’re all thriving with this new routine. My husband – an extreme night owl himself – is thrilled that our kids’ routine now more closely matches his. I’m more of a morning person, so I’m loving the extra hours in the morning when the house is quiet and I can exercise, get some work done, or just hear myself think. But most of all, it’s benefiting my kids because they are finally able to get the sleep they need in the way they need it.
One might think that they older you get, the less sleep you need. After all, a five-year-old needs less sleep than a toddler, who needs less sleep than a newborn. But that trend reverses during the teen years. According to Johns Hopkins pediatrician Michael Crocetti, M.D., M.P.H. , teens need 9-9.5 hours of sleep per night—about an hour or more than 10-year-olds need. This additional sleep is needed because of the massive changes doing on in their minds and bodies. “Teenagers are going through a second developmental stage of cognitive maturation,” explains Crocetti.
Teens don’t just need more sleep, they actually need sleep in different ways too. “Teens experience a natural shift in circadian rhythm,” said Laura Sterni, M.D., Director of Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center and Associate Professor of Pediatrics.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence — meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.”
This is why health experts – and many parents – have been pushing for later school start times for middle and high schoolers. Steven Lockley, PhD – a sleep expert and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School – has said that school start times contribute to “unrecoverable sleep loss” for teens, which is a danger to their health. But with remote learning, “start times” are largely created on an individual basis, which means kids can now get the sleep they were missing out on before. And we parents might even be able to “sleep in” a little ourselves (even if “sleeping in” means waking up at 8 a.m. instead of the usual 5:30 a.m.).
Most of the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating and traumatic, and I don’t want to minimize that. But if we’re looking for silver linings, this might be one of them. Instead of struggling to get my kids to go to bed around 9 or 9:30 so they can get enough sleep, they can now sleep when they are tired and wake up when they are rested. Without the early morning wake-ups for school, they are able to wake up naturally and slowly. And we’re all in better moods because of it.
Of course, we’ve had to set a few parameters on their vampire sleep habits. Otherwise, they might stay up literally all night and be total pains in the ass the next day. But for the most part, it’s working just fine for us. Sure, we’ll need to shift our schedules again if and when school resumes, but who knows when that will be. Until then, we’ll keep on doing what’s working – which, for us, means turning into a vampire family (minus the blood sucking, of course).