Hope for the Night Owl: Why sleeping in is better for learning.

Moon via iPhone through Scope @sprittibee

Have you always kicked yourself because you weren’t a morning person? Have you secretly hated your alarm clock for most of your life? Do you look forward to sleeping in on weekends and feel better on Saturday and Sunday than you do all week long? Well, if this study is right, you may be feeling that way along with a majority of the rest of the world!

According to the British Science Association, researchers at Oxford, Harvard and the University of Nevada did a study that found our current school start times (EARLY) are damaging the health and learning of students.

Drawing on the latest sleep research, the authors conclude student start times should be 08:30+ at age 10; 10:00+ at 16; and 11:00+ at 18. Implementing these start times should protect students from short sleep duration and chronic sleep deprivation, which are linked to poor learning and health problems.

Did you hear that? ELEVEN AM for your slow-starting Senior who you can’t drag out of bed to save his life.

I find it humorous and very gratifying that this study vindicates our homeschooling schedule and even indicates that my students should be LEARNING more because of it. You see, we are a family of night owls at the bee hive. I try and back our bedtimes up before school starts to 10:30 at the latest, but we slip forward towards midnight quite often. Even so, my kids always get at least eight hours of sleep, sometimes getting up at 8:30 if we are in bed before midnight, or later if we end up pushing one or two AM in the summer months. I used to kick myself over it and feel like a failure that our early morning stints would not last. It isn’t that we haven’t tried over the years.

Maybe our internal clocks are just SET this way? The study seems to suggest that…

These findings arise from a deeper understanding of circadian rhythms, better known as the body clock, and the genes associated with regulating this daily cycle every 24 hours.

It is during adolescence when the disparity between inherent circadian rhythms and the typical working day come about. Circadian rhythms determine our optimum hours of work and concentration, and in adolescence these shift almost 3 hours later. These genetic changes in sleeping patterns were used to determine start times that are designed to optimize learning and health.

Maybe it is in our genes? I know for sure that my mother and grandfather were night owls. My husband’s dad, on the other hand, is a very early riser… and my husband gets up for work before 4AM sometimes and it doesn’t phase him like it would me.

Interestingly, the US Department of Health has suggested that school start times be delayed so that students can get more rest and be healthier across America. They don’t however, let everyone off the hook when it comes to bedtime. They also state that kids who have bedtimes set by parents on average get MORE sleep (which is recommended) and that parents who set media curfews (less or no screen time after a certain time of day) are likely to help sleep patterns.

Adolescents who are exposed to more light (such as room lighting or from electronics) in the evenings are less likely to get enough sleep (8). Technology use (e.g., computers, video gaming, or mobile phones) might also contribute to late bedtimes (8) and parents might consider implementing a “media curfew” or removing these technologies from the bedroom.

Let me give you a word of advice up front: if you want your teens to not be on their devices at night in their rooms, you had better start YOUNG implementing a no-screens behind bedroom doors rule and have a lock box for all the screens in the house where they all go before bed. Good luck implementing this if you are already lax in that area!

Go To Sleep via @sprittibee

While it sounds great that sleeping more and getting up a little later seems to be exonerated by this latest research, it still goes without saying that having a regular bedtime and being a good example in that area are the best way to ensure your kids have proper sleep to encourage learning and good health.

Why is that? You already know the answer! Haven’t you learned by now as a parent that kids will do what you do and not what you say?

Adolescent sleep habits tend to reflect their parents’ sleep habits.

Yes, it says that in the article. They aren’t afraid to step on your bunny slippers, apparently. So while I may feel a little less guilty that we don’t start school until 9 or 10 am most days, I am still going to keep trying to move bedtimes back and get out of bed earlier. I just won’t kick myself any more for missing sunrise most mornings. How about you?

Disclaimer: links provided for articles/studies are not sponsored


  1. Shannon says

    The later you stay up, the later you sleep in. It’s a cycle that only continues to get worse. You can’t first go to bed earlier and expect to fall asleep and wake earlier. You must first wake up earlier so you will be tired earlier. Move wake time up a little each day or week until you get where you want to be. We must be training our kids to rise early so they will be able to do so when they leave the house for college or work. It’s all about diligence and self-control.