A NY Times article today, which you can read here, claims that fewer than 20% of teenagers in America get the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep they need each night, and that two out of three teens suffer from clinical sleep deprivation. As per the article, one reason for this is that the natural sleep cycle of a teenager keeps them awake later at night. This would not be a problem except for the fact that the majority of teens have to get up long before their natural sleep cycle ends, in order to go to school.
Guess what percentage of the teen population doesn’t have this problem?
Yep, that’s right. Unschoolers.
The ability to sleep when you are tired and wake when you are rested is one of the great gifts of learning outside of school. To parents who question the fact that my kids sometimes sleep till 11am by saying things like, “But they need to learn to get up early for when they have a job”, or, “They are missing out on too much of the day”, my response is this: When you are in control of your own life, you are better able to make adjustments as they become necessary. When my kids are old enough to have a job and if that job starts early, then they will adjust. I know this because they already do it – when we travel or when they choose an outing or a class that starts earlier than noon.
Destroying our kids’ ability to function at their full capacity due to sleep deprivation is one of the cruelest aspects of school. Of course nobody (or very few of us) blames the school; it is always the teens fault. Is it any wonder that the majority of teens rebel? Sleep deprivation is a major mood destroyer and reason inhibitor – how do you feel after only 3 to 4 hours of sleep? Multiply that by 5 days a week and imagine how well you’d react to someone telling you what to do all day long.
The Times article quotes Dr. Judith Owens from the American Academy of Pediatrics as saying “Sleep is not optional. It’s a health imperative, like eating, breathing and physical activity.”
Want to improve the life of a child?
Let them sleep.