Don't Follow the Crowd: Let Teens Sleep Late

One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that you and your children control your personal schedules to a much greater degree than is possible if your children attend school. For instance, when our girls were teenagers we often noted how it was easier and better for the family if we let them stay asleep rather than make them follow the early morning routines of high school. If it came up in conversation, we often found that we were told by well-meaning folks (and some not so well-meaning folks!) that we were caving in to our children and being too soft by letting them sleep while other kids rode buses or were already taking classes; that we were harming them by not making them work on the school schedule because they will not be trained to stick with regular 9 to 5 work; that we were not acting like adults by empathizing with our daughters' sleep patterns.

Fortunately, such encounters didn't dissuade us from paying attention to our teenagers' overall wellness, because we could see, feel, and hear how much more alert and emotionally balanced they were throughout the day when they slept in. Their biological clocks, at that time of their lives, made them more nocturnal and we worked with that.

We knew of and would mention research to our friends that supported later start times for school, and for teens in particular, but that never really changed their minds. However, since our daughters are all gainfully employed adults, who can and do work long, early hours, we deeply know that none of our critics' concerns were valid. This recent research paper further supports what we were criticized for doing as homeschoolers: It urges changes to education policies that will synchronize high school start times to teenagers' sleeping patterns: Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: 'let teens sleep, start school later' [Learning, Media and Technology Volume 40, Issue 2, 2015 Special Issue: Neuroscience and Education].

The paper spends a lot of time trying to convince the reader to make the policy changes necessary to do this; fortunately, if you're homeschooling, you can make this policy change in your house today. Doing so can reap many benefits for you and your family. The study's authors conclude:

The synchronization of education to adolescent biology enables immediate advances in educational attainment and can be achieved with a relatively simple step that does not require new teaching methods, new testing or large additional expenditure. The reduction of health risks through the same intervention requires no new medical methods, screening or treatment. Good policies should be based on good evidence, and the data show that children are currently placed at an enormous disadvantage by being forced to keep to inappropriate education times. Synchronizing education institutions' timings to adolescent biology to enable adequate sleep time seems both practical and necessary, and reflects what can be achieved by considered and well-researched trans-disciplinary interventions based on neuroscience, sleep science and education research (Gabrieli 2009; Meltzoff et al. 2009).