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Cranky Teenager Needs Sleep — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Cranky Teenager Needs Sleep — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I suspect that hormones are partly to blame, as well as more intense homework and a stressful social scene, but my high school freshman has been chronically cranky since school began. Do you think this is due to the too-early-start-time of 7:17 a.m.? When she gets home at 2:15 after school she heads straight to her bedroom for a nap until our earlier than usual dinner, after which she has too much homework to help much with clean-up and other housework. She had it so much better last year when middle school started at 9:10 a.m. Family life was much more pleasant with her helping to prepare and clean up from dinner most nights. Now I have to wake a sleeping bear twice a day and get no cooperation. Though I catch some quiet time after she leaves in the morning, my patience is noticeably thinning. I feel selfish saying it, but these high school hours don’t suit me at all. It’s been almost three months and we’re just not getting used to this timing.

Off Beat

Don’t miss last week’s column on Letting go for preschool — Good Parenting

Dear Off Beat,

You’re not the only ones struggling to live with hours more suited to a train’s schedule than a teenager’s. A national non-profit, Start School Later was started by a Severna Park health expert and mom to make the case for shifting school hours to better align with sleep cycles as well as with daylight. Not only are tempers challenged when normal sleep rhythms are disrupted, it’s just dangerous to have students walking to school and bus stops in the pre-dawn darkness.

But back to your cranky teen. Brain science research in the early 1990’s revealed what is now commonly known. In the teen years, a shift in the the brain changes the daily sleep patterns which results in falling asleep later at night and difficulties waking up in time for school in the morning. So it is the hormones — the ones that tell her when to go to sleep and when to wake up. A school start time of 7:17 a.m. causes accumulating sleep debt. No wonder she’s cranky.

According to the National Sleep Foundation a host of other disadvantages occur with sleep deprivation: slowed reaction time (something a new driver shouldn’t have to cope with), overeating, diabetes, heart problems, depression, and substance abuse. Students themselves report how they sleep through first period class, which is borne out in research. The ability to attend to and retain new information decreases with sleep deprivation, as does physical attendance itself.

School districts across the country that have switched to later start times report better attendance and one long term study on later start times showed many benefits including higher graduation rates. The changeover can be a rough adjustment for the first year, according to sleep expert, Kyla Wahlstrom, however the benefits of a good night’s sleep on the brain’s ability to function competently are obviously worth it.

Join the movement to re-set start times. Sign the Start School Later petition. Share your concerns and suggestions with your school board members.Plan to attend a hearing Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the AACPS school board. Come at 6 p.m. to sign up to speak (max. 3 min.) or at 7 p.m. to help represent the number of parents, students, former students, future students, and other concerned community members who would like to see later start times implemented in our schools. We are wearing black to signify the sky’s color when most high schoolers must head out in the mornings.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]

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