Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.


Do you want a little more support?

You have options!

PRIVATE GROUP COACHING – specifically a group for parents of teens!
(so awesome and so affordable! Plus 1 teleconference call each week!)
CHAOS 2 CONFIDENCE DIY – 9 incredible modules with webinars, exercises, videos, resources!
MENTORING MONTH BY MONTH – when you prefer 1:1 but don’t want to break the bank.

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9 Responses to Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

  1. Reblogged this on Bucks County Homeschoolers and commented:
    Let to them listen to their bodies. Let us respect what their bodies are telling them….sleep and teens a MUST.

  2. Caroline Jones says:

    I thank you sincerely for this information. It really helps me to help my beautiful teenage daughter get the much needed sleep she deserves without feeling that I am a terrible, “depressed” parent. THANK you very much.

  3. Diane says:

    I home schooled my son for 8 years and got sick…this year I had to send him to 11th grade/brick n mortar and hes exhausted!! On the bus a 610am and home at 310pm…IN BED BY 4PM! He has actually mentioned wanted to come back to home schooling. He woke up around 11-12 & we did schooling when we wanted! Hes so tired and I hate to see him in bed at 4pm but he needs it!
    I’m trying to figure out if I can do it again! Hes autistic so he needs lots of help.

    • Sue Patterson says:

      Poor guy! Poor you! But honestly, he really doesn’t have to jump through all of those hoops! There are so many options available. Sometimes people think they have to duplicate school at home – because that seems like what we’re SUPPOSED to do!! But we don’t have to do that all! I’d love to talk to you more about ways you could consider helping him get an education – that won’t be so exhausting for either of you! Hop on the calendar, if you think you’d like some help.

  4. nader says:

    We live in Iran. We are a number of parents who did not send our children to school
    We enrolled them at the School of Nature, where children do not have formal education
    Our kids are now around the age of 12, and we do not know what to do. Where should we start. We need to hear the experiences of parents and others
    Can you please guide

    • Sue Patterson says:

      I would love to help you!! It’s awesome that you started them out this way – and I believe you can continue!! Look at my free ebook: Unschooling Your Teens http://www.tiny.cc/UnschoolingTeens That will give you more of an idea of my perspective. I have 3 grown children – young adults – and they did not find that doors were closed to them because of choosing this path. Send me an email at Coaching@SuePatterson.com. Maybe we could do a coaching call together on Zoom, and I could answer more questions.

      So glad you reached out! Talk to you soon!

  5. Teens should be aware of the importance of sleep.

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