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The Late Riser Blues: My Moon and the Rhythm of School

This is not technically a part of my “move series”, however, because the move put this more into perspective in our lives…I am including it as a part of the move…

I was asking my Moon, my Sun, and Little Man about what their favorite things were about our new home, and after hearing about every kind of lizard, snake, frog, and insect thus far captured (and thankfully then released) by Little Man, my Moon mentioned not the beach…not the warm weather…but the later start time for school…

Having actually done some research on this years back when I first began to wonder why it took three alarm clocks (including one that literally shook the freaking bed) and a personal visit…complete with sheet removal and the partial dragging of at least one foot to the side of the bed, to get my Moon out of bed in time for her to catch the bus to school…and often times not in time for her to catch the bus…, I decided to revisit the topic.

I began researching from the point of view of someone whose kid has ADHD…and who is keenly aware of the fact that attempting to get said kid’s brain to shut down for sleep time is like trying to power down a nuclear power plant in emergency meltdown mode. It’s not as easy as simply limiting screen time before bed (check), not having electronics accessible in the room (check), camomile tea (check), lavender scented everything (check) … and this time around I ended up learning a whole lot about puberty and circadian rhythms, and “social jet lag”, and… wait… what? The American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later? They did this in 2014?! That would have been before my Moon even started high school…

Cue the folks yelling, “those lazy teens need to get their butts out of bed like I did when I was younger!” And, though I have always held a special place in my heart for people who like to watch others suffer simply because they did, I really don’t see this as valid, given that humans are (most of the time I would like to think…er…hope) progressing as a species through the help of scientific research and experiences. In other words, when we discover something new that may help to improve something in our (or in this case our children’s) lives, we can apply the information to improve things from that moment on… letting the waters of our miserable early rising high school years flow peacefully under the bridge and off to oblivion (cue credits).

Now I would like to welcome the folks out there screaming, “Those lazy teens need to get their butts out of bed early! It builds character! They’ll have to get their lazy butts out of bed when they have a real job, anyway!” (and I always imagine some kind of ‘harrumph’ at the end). Good news, angry screaming people! When they are adults and have “real jobs” their circadian rhythms will be shifting to favor earlier wake-ups anyway. They may still hate getting their lazy butts out of bed early…but at least they’ll have biology on their side.

One article that I was browsing ( put things in a way that truly drove the point home for me. It equated the usual early school start wake-up time for adolescents with a 3 a.m. wake-up time for adults. Ha! I HAVE KIDS! I TOTALLY REMEMBER ALL THE 3 A.M. WAKE-UP TIMES AS AN ADULT! This hits home much more clearly than all those charts about circadian rhythm-a-giggies! Remember those 3 a.m. feeding… or fever… or vomiting… or monster-under-the-freaking-bed wake-up calls? Now, try to imagine sitting down to learn how to find the derivatives of logarithmic functions after dragging yourself out of bed at that time. It was hard enough to find the boppy pillow, or bottle, or thermometer (and read it), or puke basin, or to come up with a totally made-up but convincing way to kill the freaking monster under the bed at that hour! I get it! …and now, as usual, I feel like I have let my kid down…cue parental guilt…

And I totally get that some teens (a definite minority) love to wake up at the crack of dawn and are 100% ready to learn and succeed before the roosters even start to crow. One of the articles that I was reading from the Boston Globe (Students find more awareness with later starts, written by James Vaznis) described a group of teens that wished school would start earlier… so much so that they actually showed up early at the school most mornings, drank coffee and listen to music while they waited for classes to begin… I guess as a kind of protest? To this I say: they may not like starting school later, but it does not in any way harm them or their academic success, the way that the opposite has been shown to do to later risers. Heck! Crack a book open and do some homework while you are waiting for school to start!

The main reasons for those holding on to or wishing to change back to the early start times seem to have to do with sports, other extra-curricular activities and after school jobs. Trust me. I get it! I totally agree that it is important for kids to be involved in activities outside of studying… for them to get exercise… for them to study music (and here I could rant on about public schools severely cutting funds for music and the arts in general… but I will hold my tongue…for now)… learn responsibility through a job. That said, I think it all comes down to the question of goals.

The job of our school system is to offer our children an education. Therefore, the goal of the institution should be to set things up in such a way as to maximize the successful deliverance and reception of said education for as many students as possible. It seems pretty simple to me. Schools that have pushed their start times later have reported fewer tardies and absences, better student engagement during class, and… most importantly… better grades. Besides, in the Boston Globe article I cited, a school that was trying the later start times reported that the impact on sports was less significant than they had feared it might be. Other school systems scheduled games to accommodate their new schedule (duh! if they want to compete against you, they will find a time that works) and several of their athletes said that getting to sleep later on school mornings outweighed the later practices.

I know, I know. There’s a lot of information out there and a myriad of opinions (this one included). And, let’s face it, change is never easy. All I can tell you is that I have seen a miraculous transformation in my own child. At her new high school the bus comes at 8:20 instead of 6:50. That is a change of an hour and a half… a change that has brought with it happier mornings with less conflict, less missed homework assignments, and higher grades. She wakes herself up in the morning and therefore is truly awake…no longer the unpleasant zombie I used to face and with whom I used to have to try to communicate. Oh, don’t get me wrong: mornings can still be hectic (as mornings tend to be) and The Sisters still bicker about who “borrowed” what from whose room, but it is much less frequent, much easier to diffuse, and when it happens, Little Man, my elementary school child who is up at the crack of dawn rain or shine… Monday or (sadly) Saturday, is already happily on his bus and on his way to school.

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