Adolescent Sleep Schedule

From the ArchivesThis kind of ignorant bleating makes me froth at the mouth every time – I guess it is because this is my own blogging “turf”.
One of the recurring themes of my blog is the disdain I have for people who equate sleep with laziness out of their Puritan core of understanding of the world, their “work ethic” which is a smokescreen for power-play, their vicious disrespect for everyone who is not like them, and the nasty feeling of superiority they have towards the teenagers just because they are older, bigger, stronger and more powerful than the kids. Not to forget the idiotic notions that kids need to be “hardened”, or that, just because they managed to survive some hardships when they were teens, all the future generations have to be sentenced to the same types of hardships, just to make it even. This is bullying behavior, and disregarding and/or twisting science in the search for personal triumphalism irks me to no end.

I hated getting up early, too. I still hate it, and I’m so far beyond growth hormones that I don’t even remember how they felt. But I do remember that in middle and high school, I dragged myself out of the house at 5 a.m. every day of the week to deliver papers before I caught the 6:45 a.m. bus to school. I never fell asleep in class. Neither did anybody else. And something caused me to grow 6 inches and add 35 pounds between sophomore and junior year. At the end of that kind of day, complete with cross-country, basketball or track, I had no trouble falling asleep at 10 p.m.

He said that he grew up in height and weight when he was in high school. Who knows how much more he would have grown if he was not so sleep deprived (if his self-congatulatory stories are to be believed and he did not slack off every chance he had). Perhaps he would not grow up to be so grouchy and mean-spirited if he had a more normal adolescence.
I don’t know where he got the idea that growth hormone is a cause of the phase-delay of circadian rhythms in adolescence. It could be, but it is unlikely – we just don’t know yet. But, if a hormone is a cause, than it is much more likely to be sex steroids. Perhaps his sleep-deprived and testosterone-deprived youth turned him into a sissy with male anxiety he channels into lashing at those weaker than him?

In previous centuries, adolescents in an agrarian society got up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. with their parents to milk the cows or do any other of a long list of chores. Did growth hormones pass them by? Where were the “studies” that showed they really needed to go to bed after midnight and sleep until 10? And why weren’t their parents all being reported to the DSS? Oh, that’s right, there was no DSS. How did that generation survive?

He assumes that in times before electricity, teenagers used to wake up and fall asleep at the same time adults did. Well, they did not. Studies of sleep patterns in primitive tribes show that adolescents are the last ones to wake up (and nobody bashes them for it – it is the New Primitives with access to media that do that) and the last ones to fall asleep – they serve as first-shift sentries during the night watch.

Even in this, the 21st century, kids who enter the military at 17 find that they can fall asleep easily at 9:30 or 10, because they know they’re going to be getting up at 4:30 or 5. Apparently the Army hasn’t read the study on circadian rhythms.

Actually, the military being the most worried by this problem is funding a lot of research on circadian rhythms and sleep and has been for decades. Because they know, first hand, how big a problem it is and that yelling sargeants do not make alert soldiers.

Kids, if you need more sleep, my study shows there’s a simple way to get it. Turn off – I mean “power down” – the cell phone, the iPod and the computer sometime before 11 p.m. Turn off the TV. Turn off the light. Lie down in bed and close your eyes.

…and sit in the dark for the next four hours, heh?
This being the beginning of the school year, I can expect to see more of such nonsense printed in the MSM and on blogs soon, so I may repost (tomorrow) some of the stuff I have already written against the societal equation of sleep with laziness in general, as well as specifically concerning adolescents (see this, this, this, this and this, for instance).
What especially drives me crazy is that so many teachers, people who work with adolescents every day, succumb to this indulgence in personal power over the children. It is easier to get into a self-righteous ‘high’ than to study the science and do something about the problem. It is easier to blame the kids than to admit personal impotence and try to do something about it by studying the issue.
I am also currently reading a very good National Academies Press book on the topic of sleep in teenagers which I intend to review soon, as well as use as a source for future rants on the topic.
Addendum: Alon Levy extends this discussion to the general issue of ageism as a conservative way to supress change by supressing the habringers of change – the next generation. Excellent read.
I’d like to go in a slightly different direction – the issue of Moral Order (scroll down to the “Adults Over Children” subheading). Of course, adults have moral authority over children. But what it means, i.e., how is this phrase understood and put to practice, differs between authoritarian/conservative and authoritative/liberal worldviews.
A conservative thinks about his child: “I am good and you are bad. I will beat the sh**t out of you for every little transgression and I hope that will teach you well. Learn to love the rod, because the discipline I am giving out today will turn into your self-discipline later. Once you are 18, get the hell out of my house – by that time you should be as moral as I am now.”
That is the recipe for the development of the External Locus of Moral Authority.
A liberal thinks about his child: “I am older, thus more educated, experienced and mature than you are. You are a good child and have a potential to become a deeply moral person. I am here to help you and guide you in solving day-to-day moral dilemmas so, by the time you are an adult, you will naturally strive to do good and behave ethically.”
That is the recipe for the development of the Internal Locus of Moral Authority.


4 responses to “Adolescent Sleep Schedule

  1. . . . The disdain I have for people who equate sleep with laziness out of their Puritan core of understanding of the world, their “work ethic” which is a smokescreen for power-play, their vicious disrespect for everyone who is not like them . . .
    Very well said! This is one of my personal pet peeves (and I haven’t been a teenager for more than two decades). I hate that “morning people” rule our society. I’m a “night owl,” and I’ve been called lazy more times than I can count by various people in my life (although not in the past few years; I’ve gotten better at booting unsupportive people out of my life). Just because someone else was awake and productive at 8 a.m., and I wasn’t, doesn’t mean a darned thing. Chances are that I was still being productive at 2 a.m., when they were asleep in bed. (Sounds like “laziness” to me). My ideal schedule would be to stay up until about 2 a.m., and get up at 10 each morning. My mind and my body feel good when I’m able to do that.
    My son (age nine) is similar to me in this way, and when we homeschooled for about a year, it was great. We were able to do things on our own schedule. Now that he’s back in school, though, we’re forced to get up at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. (And yeah, people mock me for considering this “early” but it IS, for me). It doesn’t matter how long I try and get my body used to this schedule – I do go to bed at a “decent” time which allows me the eight hours of sleep my body prefers. I still wake up tired in the morning.
    What I don’t understand is why schools and businesses won’t take into consideration that not all people operate on the same “circadian rhythm.” If school started even one hour later, it would make life a lot nicer for a whole lot of people (and it wouldn’t hurt the early risers; they could still wake up early and do whatever the heck they wanted to do before school). But no. Instead we get to fight our body clocks *every single day* and still get called lazy when we’re tired because of it. (I suspect that there are actually a lot more “night owls” than it would seem; probably most of them just caffeinate themselves in order to make it through the mornings).
    The subject makes me grumpy. 😀
    Thanks for articles on this. I’m going to keep it in mind in a few years, when my son hits his teens. Hopefully, I’ll remember to be extra careful to make sure he gets the rest that he needs, on a schedule as close to what his body would prefer as possible.

  2. My mom, who is a child development specialist, tells me that some school districts have shifted starting times, especially for teenage students like my nephew. I’ve always been an extreme lark (perhaps I need to switch to a diurnal owl for a screen name), but my sister was more normal, and the old-fashioned high school schedules were tough for her. I had jobs in health care and pool maintenance/lifeguarding throughout high school and college, which are typically well-suited for larks; my sister had jobs for which she could work evening shifts.
    Although US society is still very much a “lark’s world”, there was one sleep-related issue that I struggled with as a child. I detested enforced nap-time in Montessori pre-school and kindergarten. Some children simply don’t need naps, and having to lie still on a mat (wide awake, I might add) seems like torture. Plus, since I had asthma as a child, lying on the floor for an hour often meant a night of painful wheezing, and not enough sleep on my own cycle as a consequence.

  3. Darwin's Minion

    I’m with you and Wendy on this. Probably because I’m a bit of an owl myself – an owl who is forced to get up at 6.30 in the mornings to drag herself, zombie-like, to her office to do a job that wouldn’t suffer in the least if she started it two hours later. In fact, I think my output would greatly benefit from my mind being alert and ready to take in information, instead of all mushy. And no, other people’s work wouldn’t suffer, either, because my work is pretty much independant from that of my co-workers, except for the occasional meeting to coordinate things.
    I envy my partner for his job. He works as a programmer, and his company was wise enough to see that a lot of IT people are owls (or so it seems). Thus, they give him free reign over when he starts his day. It doesn’t matter when he shows up, only that he’s there for 8 hours. Is that great or what?
    I think society would benefit greatly if we would ditch that stupid puritan work ethic, and, more importantly, that notion that everybody should function exactly the same, as if we were a bunch of robots. Newsflash, we’re not. People are different, they have different needs, both physical and psychological. Nobody would say “oh, you’re just too lazy to do construction work!” to a petite person like me, but somehow they think it’s OK to say “oh, you’re just too lazy to get up early”.

  4. Oooh, I could get teary-eyed reading these comments. You all sound like you could get The B-Society on its feet. It needs new blood. ( )
    Cheers from nbm who has a nite-owl diagnosis and a 60% disability pension to prove it.