Rude "Awakening" Coming for Teens with Start of School

August 12, 2020

After nearly five months of little to no sleep routine for many teens, the beginning of the school year could be a rude awakening. Doctors suggest starting to adjust schedules now, even if your child will be doing a virtual school option.

“Adjusting sleep schedules varies by individual,” said Dr. John Spivey, Mercy Kids Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine. “Some kids can adjust quickly, in a day or two, but others who have been off a schedule for a long time could take a week or two.”

While the lack of schedule adds to the strain on teen sleep, staying up later is now the new normal.

“Once kids hit puberty, they develop a delay in their sleep phase – a delay in their circadian rhythm,” Spivey said. “It’s their natural sleep biology and sleep physiology. It’s not just a sleep schedule issue.”

Dr. Spivey said it’s normal for kids who used to go to bed at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. to stay up until 10, 11 or midnight. Their nighttime sleep schedules are becoming more like adult sleep schedules, however still needing more overall sleep than adults with a recommendation of eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. This is why teenagers often sleep in during the weekend or have more trouble waking up to early school start times. 

Teens and Sleep

Mercy Kids Dr. John Spivey, sleep medicine specialist, explains why teens' sleep habits shift during puberty and how to get your teens back on track with sleep in time for school.

“Parents often worry about how late their teen is staying up, but it’s really an issue of wake times,” Spivey explained. “When teenagers sleep later into the morning or early afternoon hours if affects their natural bedtime schedule, meaning they won’t be tired at an appropriate sleep time that night.”

Leading up to the start of school, parents should adjust their child’s wake time. It should be done a little at a time. Dr. Spivey said once the wake time is changed, you can slowly get your child’s sleep schedule back on track.

Here are a few tips to help with the transition back to a normal schedule:

  • Set an earlier wake time.
  • Get plenty of morning light.
  • Avoid naps that may offset the natural sleep drive.
  • Get plenty of activity and exercise earlier in the daytime (not right before bedtime).

Not only is wake time and a sleep schedule important, but sleep hygiene is where a good night’s sleep begins. Set up the bedroom for appropriate sleep. Make sure the bedroom is calm, comfortable and cool. Dr. Spivey tells patients to use the bedroom and bed solely for sleeping. Avoid lying in bed watching TV, playing video games or activities outside of sleep that may create negative associations with your bedroom and good quality of sleep.

Teens often use electronics to communicate, even more so during the pandemic. In addition, electronics are even more common for all ages as many schools start back virtually. However, electronics in the bedroom and during bedtime can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep.

Here are tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics related to electronics and sleep:

  • Disconnect from all electronics 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
  • Charge electronics outside of the bedroom.