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Expert (and Easy) Way to Up Teens' Grades

Photograph by Twenty20

When I was little, my mother always forced me to go to bed early. I would sneak in a trip to the bathroom, and ask for a glass of water and an extra blanket to delay the process. I was always a night owl, and so I tossed and turned until I finally fell asleep.

My mother warned me that one day I would want to sleep but I wouldn't be able to. She advised me to sleep as much as I could as a child. She was completely right about that (I'm the mother of a toddler!).

However, once I got to high school, she gave up on forcing me to go to bed. So I was up very late most nights and stumbled into class at 7:40 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control released a study confirming what my high school-aged self knew along: school starts too damn early.

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The study looked at start times of schools across the country and found that the average is 8:03 a.m. Only small percentage of schools start at the time recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics, 8:30 a.m. or later. Teenagers are particularly affected by this early start, as the research concludes "among adolescents, insufficient sleep has been associated with adverse risk behaviors, poor health outcomes, and poor academic performance."

While this gets harder as kids get older, it is worth making the attempt to give your children guidelines for bedtime.

Parents already know the adverse effects poor sleep has on performance at work and school, and on our quality of life. I estimate about 40 percent of the arguments my partner and I have during the daytime are caused by sleep deprivation. A later school start time would ensure students get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep their developing brains need. Dr. David Gozal, a sleep expert at the University of Chicago, explained that during puberty teenagers start to have issues falling asleep at the usual hours. Hormonal changes also cause an increased need for sleep. A study last year found that teens are actually more productive later in the day. (I must still be a teenager, I think.)

High school is also when kids have an increased workload at school and take on extra-curricular activities. These demands are at odds with what is happening to their sleep cycles and might be why they are not getting the amount of sleep needed. In this digital age, we know screens also play a role in everyone's sleep cycles, but we know that teenagers are especially affected by laying in bed, scrolling through Kylie Jenner's Instagram feed.

The study offered suggestions to help kids go to bed early. Things like limiting screentime in the evenings and giving a kids regular bedtime. While this gets harder as kids get older, it is worth making the attempt to give your children guidelines for bedtime. The most important tip, however, is setting a good example and having an early bedtime and consistent rise time, and also leaving the iPhones charging in a communal area away from bedrooms.

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Parents can actually advocate for later start times but often encounter numerous barriers to do so because our system is set up to accommodate early start times.

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