It's 12:30 p.m. on a hot August day and my rising eighth-grader is not rising.
Camps are done. Vacation travel is over. His buds are out of town. The pool is boring without his pals. He has nothing to do and no one with whom to do it. Shockingly, there's not even some sort of sports practice to scamper to in the early evening.
He was still up last night watching recorded episodes of Tosh.0 well after I went to bed. Why wake him up?
He's 13, and staying up late and sleeping until 1 in the afternoon is normal, right? There's even a name for it: delayed sleep phase syndrome.
It's normal, but it's not necessarily right. And because school is starting in a couple of weeks, it's time to start changing his sleep patterns, say the experts, so he can get the z's he needs but still be ready for first-period class.
"Kids need a lot of sleep," confirms Dr. Richard Castriotta, director of the Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. In other words, sleep keeps him up at night, pondering the medical mysteries of what Edgar Allan Poe called "little slices of death."
How much sleep do kids need? Castriotta cites a recent Rhode Island study that followed thousands of kids through the school-age years. The conclusions are eye-opening: High school kids, when given the opportunity, slept an average of nine and a quarter hours; middle schoolers 10 hours and elementary children 11 hours.
"Those are rule-of-thumb numbers" for the school year, he says.
In order to get my son, Luke, up early enough to take a shower and eat breakfast, finish homework, pack his backpack, get his lunch and make it to the bus stop, he needs to be in bed by 9:30 p.m.
School for him starts at 9:20 a.m., a luxury compared with other parts of the country where some junior highs and high schools start classes as early as 7 a.m.
In Tarrant County, high school starts at 8:35 a.m. and elementary schools open their doors at 8 a.m., meaning your pre-K to fifth-grader needs to hit the sack by 8 p.m. to get up at 7 a.m.
So how do you do this? Lullabies? Warm milk? I hear melatonin is pretty effective ...
"You can't make kids go to sleep -- and we don't advocate knocking kids out," says Castriotta, "but what we can do is enforce a rigid wake time, earlier and earlier. If they're getting up at noon, start weeks ahead of time enforcing an earlier rise time.
"Slowly get up at 11 o'clock and then 10 o'clock. A couple of weeks before school you want them getting up at 6:30 if that's the right time for them.
"But the key is, you have to start early. Weeks early. Gradually advance the bedtime and the rise time."
Weeks? School starts Aug. 22! So we're already behind!
Let's be honest, this is bitter medicine. It's going to be painful, for the kid and the parents.
But sleep scientists remind us it is important for your child's school success to have the right amount of sleep.
"Children who are not getting sufficient sleep tend to be irritable and/or hyperactive, and are sometimes mislabeled as having ADHD," says Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston. "Also, lack of sleep can exacerbate existing health issues seen in kids, such as bed-wetting and sleepwalking."
Not only is this semester's success in trouble, your child's future in higher learning could be at risk as well. Colleges are paying closer attention to earlier grades in high school transcripts, so every test score counts.
Studies of thousands of students in Massachusetts and Minnesota "show that the amount of sleep that kids get is directly related to their grades," Castriotta points out. "Massachusetts showed a big difference between kids who got A's and B's and kids who got C's and D's; it amounted to about 25 minutes or more sleep per night. The data was really pretty good."
Castriotta says he was happy that the Houston school district proposal to start the school day earlier was defeated in June. "Other states start school later to accommodate the sleep deprivation," he says, adding that sleep scientists and pediatricians have long lobbied for later start times. He says that those who study sleep are also in favor of doing away with daylight-saving time, which he says is pretty much useless for saving daylight or time.
"There's no good reason to have daylight-saving time," he says.
Ah, yes, the chilly wait at the darkened bus stop is approaching. But that's a crisis we'll have to deal with later.
Right now, we need to get this kid up.