“The kids,” my son wrote one morning, “are strewn around the living room right now, apparently exhausted by sleeping in.”
These are the kids who used to bounce up early each morning, who couldn’t believe how long grownups could stay in bed.
But I don’t need to imagine their lazing about. For decades, tired teens trudged through my classroom door in the morning with heads too heavy for necks, eyelids too droopy for seeing, feet weighted to the floor, and legs looking for a place to rest, acting just like I feel when I’m jet-lagged.
It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep, students would tell me. Sometimes their phones and video games kept them up. But often, they just couldn’t sleep. No wonder. Research shows that the sleep-wake cycles change during the teenage years with the body waiting longer into the evening before producing melatonin, the hormone that brings sleep. Morning, their brains tell teens, is the best time to sleep. This is why some school districts have switched school times, sending buses first for the younger kids who are already up and ready to go and starting school later for middle and high school.
Besides changing sleep-wake cycles, my grandkids have one more excuse for morning inertia. They’ve been busy all night—growing. It’s in deep sleep that the human growth hormone is released, and there is growing evidence that significant growth can happen in very short periods, even overnight. So the strewing around on couches and recliners may not be so much a sign of slothfulness as it is an indicator of a hard night’s work.
With this rapid, growth, teens need more sleep than they did when they were younger and more sleep than they’ll need as adults.
So I’m glad its summer break for these exhausted kids.