By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Tweens and teenagers are infamous for their not-so-pleasant qualities – the eye-rolling, the obstinance, and the way sarcasm becomes their primary language. But they don’t get enough credit for the one thing they’re great at during this stage of life – sleep.
If I could give one piece of reassurance to the bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived parents of babies and little kids, it’s this: One day your kids will sleep so well that you won’t even see them emerge from their bedroom caves until the crack of noon. All the sleep you’re missing right now will be returned to you if you can just hang on until they turn 13.
As a self-professed night owl who relishes the opportunity to sleep late on weekends, I remember how tough it was when our three kids were little and convinced that sleep was their enemy. They’d get up before the sun did, eager to play games, make messes and watch Thomas the Tank Engine for the 400th time.
Back then I’d force my eyes open and try to find the will to live at that ungodly hour. While cartoons entertained my pajama-footed early birds, I’d slip in and out of a semi-conscious state, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. I was amazed by the boundless energy of my offspring. They were just so desperate not to miss a second of action.
But teenagers are completely fine with missing the action. They can sleep through nearly anything, and they sleep especially hard when it sounds like housework might be happening downstairs. Occasionally, the smell of frying bacon or freshly-baked cinnamon rolls is enough to lure them out of a 12-hour sleep-a-thon, but, other than that, they keep vampire hours on weekends and on any holiday break from school.
Teens are also wonderfully self-sufficient. Once they finally come out of their sleep coma, they shuffle to the kitchen and forage for their own food. The other day I breezed through the kitchen and saw our 12-year-old preparing her own salad. I complimented her healthy food choice, and she said she was hoping it would cancel out the package of candy Fun Dip she’d already eaten as an appetizer. (Make a note here that self-sufficiency and wisdom don’t always go hand-in-hand.)
Some parents rouse their sleepy teens out of bed early on weekends, convinced that no one should sleep that late. But biologically speaking, teens are hard-wired for this type of sleep pattern. Experts say that during adolescence, a teenager’s body doesn’t start to make melatonin – a natural sleep hormone – until around 11 at night. Then those melatonin levels stay elevated during the morning hours, which explains why waking up a teen for school is only slightly less difficult than doing a dental exam on a cranky lion.
I’ve personally witnessed a teen sit on the side of his bed, with one leg in his school pants and one leg out, fall back onto the mattress and be asleep again faster than you can say “You’re going to be late.” It makes sense why some high schools are moving their start times later in the morning, to give the teenage brain a chance to fully wake up before taking a test.
So, the weekend and school break policy at our house is to let sleeping teenagers lie. Their growing bodies need it, and I like how peaceful the house is during the morning hours, knowing my “babies” are safe and warm in their beds. Sometimes I peek in on them, just to remember earlier years when they were still small enough to sleep snuggled into the crook of my arm.
Soon enough, they’ll be graduated, grown and getting up for work. And maybe one day they’ll be waking up early to take care of their own babies. But for now, while I still can, I let them sleep. Sweet dreams, babies.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.