The following is a visitor-submitted question or story. For more, you can submit your own sleep story here, or browse the collection of experiences and questions other visitors have shared here.
Sleep Deprived Teenager: Too Much Homework
I'm writing this at 3:00 a.m. in my local time zone. I'm not procrastinating, I'm just taking a five minute break from all of the work I still have left to do. My headache has gotten bad enough that I need to separate myself from my writing for long enough for my thoughts to clear.
I'm a teenager in the IB program, and I'm chronically sleep deprived. The way that the IB program works is that you are given both international and local curriculum requirements to fulfill, at the same time, despite the fact that the overlaps between the two systems are often not that substantial.
As a result, since the beginning of October (it is now early June), I have had an average of 6 hours of sleep a night. For the last few months, this average has decreased to approximately 4 hours.
There are times, such as tonight, when I will potentially get 2 hours of sleep, if I don't succeed in pulling another all-nighter. Yet, this is the reality in my high school. Right now, I'm texting other friends for homework help, almost all of whom are up and awake. The majority of them will be to bed by 3:30, and up again before 7.
I get heart palpitations, my hands shakes, I've lost all color to my skin - I haven't been outside for more than 45 minutes in months, makeup no longer covers the bags under my eyes, my immune system has begun to fail me (I always have a cold), visual auras have become more commonplace, I have gained weight from the number of times I've had caffeinated products and carbs at all hours of the night... and I'm exhausted.
This is sleep deprivation. Don't try it.
Kevin: Hey Kate, I can relate. Looking back on my high school years, which were just a few years ago, I can see that I was totally sleep deprived from simply not having enough hours in the day after the demands of school and sports. My high school started at 7:10 AM, which meant waking up at 5:30 each morning to make it on time (there was a lot of traffic by the school close to start time). Not a good hour when homework and a natural teenage circadian rhythm had me up until 11PM or midnight the night before.
It's tough when the system conspires against you. But hey, education and increased awareness of these issues is the best way to change the system, or in the meantime, at least understand what's happening with your body so you can be as strategic as possible in dealing with or knocking off your sleep debt.
From one (former) sleep deprived teenager to another...
I never, ever, want my children to stay up past 8pm.
I don’t want them to have a later bedtime until they are older and no longer want to hang out with me. I love my children, but I also love my sanity, and that sanity comes from bad TV and sweet, sweet silence.
I have six-year-old twins, and right now they go to bed at around 7:30 p.m. I hear other parents talk about their first graders staying up and hanging out with them until 10:00 p.m. at night and it horrifies me. That isn’t because their kids are staying up too late, but because, my God, when do those parents get to have their evening fun time? When do they watch The Bachelorette and eat the cookies they hide from their children?
By 8:00 p.m. at night, I am done. That’s when Mommy clocks out. At that point, I am unable to even pretend to parent anymore. All conversations my children try to have with me between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. are met with one word: No.
“Can you fix my sheets?”
“Can you get me more water?”
“Can you –”
“No. And before you ask your next question, the answer is also no.”
The more I talked to other parents about bedtimes, however, the more concerned I got that 7:30 p.m. might be too early. I have a tendency to get lulled into complacency by the habits of day-to-day life, and sometimes forget that my children keep getting older and occasionally the rules need to change. So when I learned that my kids had the earliest bedtime of all of their first-grade friends, it made me a little nervous. Was I putting my kids to bed way too early? Was I about to lose the only time of the day when I am able to fully and completely relax? When they’re at school I’m still on alert because my phone could ring at any minute — the school nurse could call asking me to pick up a sick kid, or the principal might ring, telling me that my shy child tried to run off of school property to avoid picture day. Night-time is the only time when I know that my children can’t possibly ask me for anything because they are unconscious.
To address my concerns, I decided to ask an expert for guidance. I called Rebecca Michi, a trained Children’s Sleep Consultant in Seattle who has a British accent and a great attitude. Did she think that 7:30 p.m. was too early a bedtime for a couple of first graders?
“Wake up time has to dictate the bedtime,” she said. “Children can go to bed late if they wake up late. First graders need ten to twelve hours of sleep a night. Otherwise they are sleep deprived, and we all act like two-year-olds when we are sleep deprived.”
My kids wake up at 6:30 a.m. every morning on their own. I can put them to bed at 5 p.m. or I can put them to bed at midnight, and they will still wake up at 6:30 a.m. It’s something my husband and I have had to accept, and by accept I mean we’ve had to murder the part of our souls that has hope. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Michi didn’t tell me that my kids should stay up later. In fact, based on Michi’s recommendations, 7:30 was a perfect bedtime for them. I couldn’t believe it – I was doing something right…completely by accident, of course, but I’ll take it however I can get it.
Before I ride my high horse off into the sunset, though, it’s important to point out that in addition to my accidentally appropriate bedtime, it’s likely that many inappropriate bedtimes aren’t chosen thoughtlessly. I don’t think there are a lot of parents who are watching The Tonight Show with their kindergartener and saying, “Eh. He’ll go to bed when he feels like it. Now Timmy, go get Momma another martini.” I think there are a lot more parents who keep their kids up due to external factors they can’t control.
For example, there’s Michi’s recommendation that wake-up time dictate bedtime. My kids don’t start school till 9:30 a.m., and with their 6:30 a.m. natural wake-up time that means I never have to force them out of bed in the morning. If I had older kids who were doing homework and then going to bed at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., who then had to be at school and in class at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I’d be dealing with some overly tired kids and I would be seriously aggravated. I understand the recent push by some parents to move school start times back, because I’m not sure how anyone can expect kids to succeed when they can’t get the rest they need.
I’m also a work-at-home mom. I take my kids to and from school every day. I have three hours with them before school and three hours after. I am not hurting for time with my kids. If I had a job where I had to be at work by 8:00 a.m. and I didn’t get home until 7:00 p.m., and I put my kids to bed at 7:30 p.m., that would mean spending less than an hour a day with my kids during the week, if that. Of course I understand why some parents would want to push that bedtime back by an extra hour or so in order to get some time with their children. You know, for bonding. Or for algebra, which is the opposite of bonding.
Thankfully, I no longer feel any pressure to let my kids stay up past 8:00 p.m. I can turn off their lights, say my final no’s, and ease myself onto my sofa, where frozen yogurt and The Voice await me. Even the experts understand my need for “night time means no children time.” As Michi told me, “Some parents love having their kids up late. I can’t think of anything worse. I want to watch inappropriate TV with my husband and have a glass of wine.” Preach it, British priestess of sleep.
Here’s how I look at it: this is a parenting rule that is not only good for the kids, but also brings me joy. There aren’t a whole lot of those. I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.
Meredith Bland is an award-winning humor and parenting writer from Seattle. She works as a staff writer at Mommyish, and has a humor blog called Pile of Babies. You can follow her on Twitter at @pileofbabies.