Why does Jackie sleep so much?
As Jackie’s mother was asking the question, I was already suspecting that Jackie actually didn’t sleep enough!
They Sleep So Much, and Yet So Little!
Jackie (not her real name) is a pretty typical high-school sophomore. She’s a good student. She plays three sports. When I met her she was running track in the fall. The problem, Jackie told me, was that she needed to do homework, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open during dinner. She was afraid that her grades were going to suffer if she couldn’t complete her school work.
She would wake up at 6:30 in the morning. Or rather, Jackie’s mother would wake her up at 7. There’s no way Jackie would wake up on her own. On Saturdays and Sundays, the girl would wake up at 10.
The school day would go fine. Jackie didn’t report any sleeping or even drowsiness during the day. Immediately after school she’d go to track practice, four days per week. She’d compete once per week. After track, Jackie would come home, eat dinner and do homework. Most nights Jackie wouldn’t get to bed until after 11 PM.
Lately the fatigue was catching up to Jackie. By dinner time she was wiped out. That’s when they sought my advice.
I took a complete history from Jackie and her mother. She was healthy (no snoring, no asthma), had no emotional or drug problems (that she would admit to). There was no television in her room. The rule in house was that no cell phones or tablets were allowed in the bedroom. Jackie’s parents kept to this rule as well. She had been a good sleeper up to this point. There was no family history of parasomnia.
The answers to these and other questions led me to believe that the reason for Jackie’s sleepiness after school was not a result of any health or emotional problem. Jackie would sleep so much after school because she wasn’t sleeping enough at night.
Teens Don’t Sleep So Much
Teenagers are supposed to get 9 1/2 hours of sleep every night. But on average, teens get 7- 7 1/2 hours. In addition, the teen sleep cycle is delayed compared to their younger peers. The teenage sleep cycle is such that they will tend to want to fall asleep at 11 PM, but they’ll need to wake up at 8:30 AM in order to get their 9 1/2 hours. Jackie was already in school when her brain wanted her to be waking up!
As a result, Jackie was genuinely exhausted by the time track practice was over. Her mother had wondered if Jackie needed to quit track so that she could get her homework done earlier.
Sports are Good for Kids
I explained that the issue was not track, it was the early wake-up time required by Jackie’s school. Jackie was glad to hear this. She really enjoyed track. She enjoyed the competition, and several of her good friends were on the team.
Need a SLEEP COACH?
In fact, vigorous exercise is good for teens (as it is for all of us!) I suspect that if Jackie wasn’t running track she probably would not be doing as well as she was. Teens who participate in sports tend to be more organized than their non-athletic peers, not least because sports schedules force the young person to be more efficient with study and homework.
The Fix for Jackie
Jackie’s situation is far from unique. High school administrators are well aware of sleep issues among the student body. With so many students involved in after-school activities, the sleep-deprivation problem is made worse. To respond to the problem, many schools have devised an ingenious solution: the study hall.
Study hall of course is an old concept. But these days schools are permitting extra study hall periods dedicated to homework.
There are several advantages to the student who is permitted to get homework done during school hours. Not least, student-athletes like Jackie can return from practice, shower, eat dinner, and go to sleep!
The solution is not ideal, however. The best solution would be to start school later for high schoolers. Such solutions in fact have been tried in several school districts, with positive results.
Jackie’s guidance counselor was enormously helpful. With her help, Jackie was able to schedule two extra study hall periods per week, which were enough to allow Jackie to finish all her homework before track practices and meets.
The take-home lesson for parents is that your teen isn’t sleeping as much as you think. In fact, they probably aren’t sleeping enough. I recommend trying to figure out how much sleep your teen is getting at night. Chances are very good that she is not getting 9 1/2 hours. If daytime sleepiness is becoming a problem, then some kind of intervention would help you.
That’s where I come in. I help parents solve their teenagers’ sleep problems. If you are dealing with a sleepy teenager, who nods out during school, or upon returning home, I can help.