Youth Culture Window

The Battle Over the Bed… That Began Last Night

Dynamic Image“Get up! I’m not telling you again! Get out of bed right now!” If your mornings start off with this many exasperating exclamation marks, there are several things you can do to fix it.

Most of which are very, very simple.

The Magic Number Is 9
No, that’s not the winning lottery numbers for this weekend’s jackpot. Nine is the number of hours of sleep most doctors and researchers believe teenagers need each – and every – night. Specifically, the Sleep Foundation suggests between 8.5 and 9.25 hours each evening, but according to research by the same group, only 15% of adolescents are getting enough sleep on school nights.

Short rests at night can lead to short tempers in the morning.

Here are a few ideas that researchers and parents have discovered that can make all of our mornings a lot more peaceful.

Develop Regular Sleep Patterns
The typical teenager’s life includes any combination of the following: a 7-hour school day, sports practice, a part-time job, homework, digital media entertainment (such as music, movies, and television content), and spending time with friends and family. That doesn’t leave much time for sleep. When sleep deprivation happens, a teenager is more susceptible to a host of problems that range from lower grades to an increased likelihood of vehicular accidents.

Interestingly, parents think this problem can be solved by sleeping in on the weekends…but according to Dr. Dennis Rosen of The Harvard Medical School, it can’t. Sleeping in on Saturdays and Sundays may replenish a sleep deficit, but it produces a larger problem with teens’ inner clock compared to external clocks resulting in a circadian rhythm that’s out of sync with life. According to Dr. Rosen, when kids try to cram in a lot of sleep on the weekends, it’s like having jet lag every Monday morning; kids wake up because their alarm clocks read 6:00 a.m., but their bodies are telling them it’s 1:00 a.m.

But developing regular, disciplined sleep patterns is only one part of the solution. There are other steps you can take, such as…

No Screens Before Bed…Especially Old Smurf Reruns
Jonathan McKee commented to me that one of the biggest complaints he hears from parents in his parent workshops each month is the smartphone. Most young people in the U.S. own them and are spending hours each day on these devices… right up until the lights are clicked off. Most experts are citing the smartphone as the No. 1 culprit keeping young people awake at night.

But new findings are saying that we should also take a close look at what stays turned on after the lights are turned off because of their effect on our bodies.

A healthy person’s pineal gland begins to release melatonin a few hours before the body’s perceived bedtime. However, some lights, especially the blue lights from a screen, can deter the pineal gland from releasing the necessary melatonin, thus delaying a natural (and needed) sleepiness.

So, not only should kids not watch Smurf reruns, but it might be a good idea to check all sources of light in a bedroom. What color is the alarm clock’s display? Are there any blinking lights coming from an electronic device that’s being recharged? What about light streaming in through a window?

Turning off blue lights at night can keep you from singing the blues in the morning.

If Possible, Go To School When The Doctor Says So
Fair warning: this is a controversial point of discussion amongst leading thinkers, sociologists, and even politicians. Years ago, many of us parents and youth workers started school closer to 7:30 a.m. than 9:00 a.m., but there’s a strong argument these days that the latter might be better.

The American Academy of Pediatrics just released a recommendation to begin middle school and high school classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. because of observations they’ve made in teens’ circadian rhythms. According to doctors, a “shift” in circadian cycles occurs during adolescence that pushes teens’ best sleeping times forward (which is why many young people struggle to go to sleep before 11:00 p.m., even though they may have been in bed for an hour or more).

Research aside, there are two high schools in my town, one that starts at 7:30 a.m. and one that starts at 9:00 a.m. Some of the students at my church (like my teenage daughter) attend the “early” school, and some attend “cappuccino” school, the nickname the students gave the school that begins at 9:00 a.m. Even the blind man can see the difference in attitude between the sets of students each morning. Most mornings, I bump into kids who attend the later school at the coffee shop or local McDonalds as they meet with friends and chat before heading over to the school. Time will tell if a later start time will positively impact school grades, driving safety, and more.

Getting Back to Good Mornings
Mornings don’t have to start with a bunch of yelling and screaming, hustle and bustle, or hurt feelings. Like most other things in life, a little bit of preparation can solve a lot of potential problems. Fixing the nighttime routines can go a long way towards achieving a fight-free morning the next day.

Just remember, even though you can tip the scales in your family’s favor, all new habits take some time to develop and strengthen. You probably shouldn’t expect change to happen “overnight,” but within a couple weeks, your family should start to see some marked improvement.

In the future, perhaps it will truly be a good morning.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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