Teenagers, Sleep & Memory

by Dave Farrow

Did you know early morning school start times can actually be damaging to a teen’s brain?

It’s a well-known fact that teenagers like to sleep. They can easily sleep until noon and dread the early morning alarm clock that signals the start of the school day.
But forcing teens to wake up too early for school is counter-intuitive to getting the best test results and overall academic accomplishments. (source)

So what time of morning is too early for a teen’s brain to learn?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), any time before 8:30am is too early for the teenage brain to function at its best. So how can you work within a system that forces teens to wake up their body before their brains are ready?

Sleep Hacks for Parents & Teens:

  1. Set a bedtime alarm. So many people want to go to sleep earlier but have difficulty pulling themselves away from the distractions of the world. Just like your morning alarm, a bedtime time alarm helps you stay on track by reminding you to begin your bedtime routine.  You can even include a 15 minute snooze /grace period to finish what you are doing, brush your teeth, put on your jammies and climb into bed.
  2. Measure your sleep.  Even if you get the same amount of sleep, why are some mornings easier than others? One reason for this is because of sleep cycles. Sleep runs in 90 minute cycles and waking up when you are in deep sleep will leave you groggy. Count backwards from your wake up time to ensure you do not cut off one of these cycles in the middle.  Use this sleep timer to help calculate HERE.
  3. Eliminate bed-time distractions. For younger kids, avoid sugary snacks or scary movies. For older kids, try to limit gaming and other online activity. Bedtime should be about relaxing and winding down for sleep.

  4. Talk to your kids about the importance of sleep. Make sure they know that it’s just as important to overall health as good diet and exercise.
  5. Discuss later school start times. Parents, teachers, and even the teens themselves can and should open a dialogue with the school or district where they attend. The more people asking for change, the more the system will be willing to accommodate. Be sure to provide accurate C.D.C. data and research on sleep and school start times.
These bed time tips are very general and meant to encourage discussion about what works for you and your family. But ultimately, the goal is to get a better night’s sleep or more sleep, for best brain health in school the next day.


Dave Farrow

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Lydia Gaolekwe August 21, 2015 - 12:19 pm

Thank you so much for the tip, I did not know that lack of enough sleep contributed in finding it difficult to wake up the next day, in as much as this tip is meant for teenagers, i think it applies to everyone. Personally i have benefited.


Bernadette Berger January 8, 2016 - 7:15 pm

What about teens who are training for a sport, swimming or figure skating etc…. they have to be in the pool, on the ice at 6 am everyday before school and again after school. Then they have homework and maybe some free time later to chat with friends or watch a video or two maybe.

andrea March 8, 2016 - 8:11 pm

Hi Bernadette and thanks for your question. Unfortunately, with such busy schedules and extracurricular activities, this is the biggest challenge. My best advice is to schedule time for your teen to simply rest and eat well. Perhaps you can watch their activity and when you notice they are struggling, exhausted, or overwhelmed, you can pull the “parent card” and hold your busy teen home for much needed rest. Maybe you this means an absent day from school or late arrival with parent note. Perhaps this means missing a single practice or event to be better rested for future games or events. Be the parent and make a judgement call. I wish I had better advice, but we are all in this struggle together.


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