Waking Up the Sleepy Teen

How do I get a 13-year-old boy out of bed on school mornings? I have tried just about everything.

--A Parent Soup member

Did you know that the best sleep experts in the country have observed teens in sleep labs, measured their melatonin levels (a hormone that helps regulate the body's cycles), and they agree that it is nature -- not teen defiance -- that makes it impossible to get these adolescents out of bed at an early hour? It is true! Our adolescents cannot help themselves. Their body clocks run on a schedule incompatible with the early-to-rise routine that has been thrust upon them. If they gave into their natural rhythms, most teens would prefer to sleep from 2am to noon rather than from 11pm to 7am. Unfortunately, schools have been slow to get the message. Older children often get to school before those in nursery and elementary school, even though at those young ages, children really are programmed to get going earlier.

Sleep researchers would prefer to have adolescents start school at 10am. However, most school officials place the sleep issue low on their list of priorities. So, it seems that parents will still be faced with the daunting task of getting their children out of bed while they are half asleep.

What to do? Empathize with your child; share some of what you have learned here. Ask for his input on how he would like to manage his mornings. One idea is to do as much as possible the night before (pack up schoolwork, shower, lay out clothes, prepare lunch, lay out breakfast supplies) to ensure that he can spend as much time as possible in bed. Have him avoid doing anything stimulating before bedtime -- exercising, playing violent video games, eating or drinking foods containing caffeine. Make sure he has a regular bedtime routine that is predictable and will invite sleepiness. In the meantime, empathize with his struggle. He is probably as frustrated as you are.

-- Charlene Giannetti, coauthor of The Roller-Coaster Years and Parenting 911

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