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Sleep First

I think homeschool is GREAT. It has the potential to be an infinitely more relaxing and less stressful environment than traditional school. But do you still find yourself and/or your child kinda stressed about school? Well it happens around my house all the time. But this year one change (MORE SLEEP!) has made a bigger positive difference than I thought possible!


If you are ever feeling stressed or frustrated, before you make any drastic changes: try getting more sleep.


Of course I think you as the parent/teacher also need adequate sleep: you need all the energy and patience you can get (and then some!). The 'easiest' fix is to get more sleep. I say 'easy' because it is one item to address, but I know how difficult it can be to change patterns and behavior around sleep. For now, please know that you yourself will do better if you get more sleep.


But what I really want to talk to you about is your child getting enough sleep. Children and teens need more sleep than adults. There is no way around it: quality and quantity of sleep matter for our kids and will affect EVERYTHING else in their lives.


A study done during the pandemic showed that when lockdowns occurred teens tended to have more similar sleep schedules on weekends as weekdays (meaning they weren't playing catch-up as much on the weekends like they were pre-pandemic). One study showed that teens' wake up time moved 2 hours later during distance learning. Teens in this study on average also had longer duration sleep, higher quality sleep, and reported less daytime drowsiness compared to a regular school schedule. At our house we had similarly fabulous results:


Joe and I set out at the beginning of this school year to 'get his sleep schedule under control.' At the time I think I intuitively understood that irregular sleep patterns were contributing to me feeling like we were not getting the most out of our school days. Since then I have been reading non-stop about how important sleep is. And the consensus is clear: a regular sleep schedule of ENOUGH sleep EVERY night is critical.


It took my son and I a few months of being VERY focused on sleep to figure out what worked for us. I am a morning person; he is NOT. But he was willing to try shifting his sleep schedule to something closer to what most of the working and school world uses. But it just didn't take. He really seems to have an internal clock that says he should sleep from 1AM or so until Noonish!


It took me a while to embrace his natural tendency and work WITH it rather than against it. It feels sinful to not start working on school until 12:30 or 1 pm everyday! But that IS what we do now. We take some breaks and work through a 'normal' supper time. He is done by 7pm or so. He gets some exercise and then has the rest of the night to spend as he chooses.


And guess what? He doesn't yawn through lessons anymore. He is more focused and significantly more productive. I attribute that to him being well-rested.


I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution for ANYTHING, but having your child get enough quality sleep is as close to a miracle cure as I can think of right now. Exactly HOW you and child figure out how to fit sleep into your own lives might not look anything like what I have done. And that is ok.


My advice is to look at this as a GREAT place to experiment. For a week or two try earlier bedtimes, or later wake times. For another week or two be sure kiddo is getting good exercise everyday. Maybe you need to pay attention to sugar or caffeine intake? Please try ONE THING at a time. Change is hard and you don't want to feel icky about making this change. You want it to be as easy as possible.


Also: do NOT look for perfection. Some nights are going to be sleepless for you, your kiddo, or both. Some will be GREAT. Some times it will be an utter mystery why some nights are good and some are bad.


KNOW that there will be some rough nights and that school the next day might be pretty tough. Maybe that is a day to skip the least favorite subject and come back to it on a day when kiddo has the energy to tackle it. If a lesson or activity is an UTTER struggle - take a break. Revisit if it can be done at a better time, or in a different way, or can be swapped out for something else.


I believe if we come at this genuinely with our kids' best interests at heart, they will be on board with trying some things to get better sleep. So instead of saying "Get to bed right now because I said so," have a discussion with your child about how sleep is so important to our health and see if you can work together to come up with a plan to address it.


My son was 15 when we started our sleep experiments this year. He is now 16. He is independently going to sleep when he should, and sleeping pretty well most of the time. Getting up still isn't FUN for him. But he isn't exhausted. And school is infinitely easier, more productive, and less frustrating: for everyone!!! AND NO YAWNING! Seriously, it is amazing!


Questions you might have:


1. How much sleep should my child be getting?

Ages 5-12: 9-12 hours. Yes. It might be TWELVE hours that they need.

Teens: 8-10 hours. Yes. TEN is a big chunk of time.


If your child is an athlete - take the high end of those ranges as a starting point.


2. How the heck am I myself, or my kid, supposed to have time for that many hours of sleep?

Good. Question. Personally, I have found the only solution is to do less. But that is actually a great solution at our house! We are careful about what activities we schedule and how we spend our time. In fact doing less has helped in many aspects of homeschooling: now what we do, we do with more focus and energy. Which feels like 'more' to us! (Don't get me started on the benefits of minimalism in homeschooling, we'll be here all day. Plus I'll write more about it in future posts anyway!)


I'd love to hear from you on this topic. How have you found your child's sleep schedule to impact homeschool? Email me at prairiesci5@gmail.com.


Sleep Articles:

https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/44/9/zsab075/6189077?login=true


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945720304184?via%3Dihub

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