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Random Friday Question: Sleepy Days of Summer

One of the abiding myths of adult life is the notion that somehow things will slow down in summer. We're so conditioned by the idyllic, lazy summers of our youth that we retain the belief that the months when school is not in session will provide relief from the tensions and long hours of the rest of the year's rat race.

Would that it were so. Other than the fact that most Americans choose to take their vacations during the summer, there's not much evidence that summers really provide much of a change in our daily schedules. In these productivity-crazed times, there's no sign that employers are any less eager for work to occur in summer than they are the rest of the year.

But there is more sunlight in summer, and there does seem to be one way in which summer life is significantly easier and more pleasant: I don't have good data to support this, but my sense is that people sleep longer in summer. So, today's Random Friday Question: Does summer afford you the chance to sleep more, and do you take advantage of that?

Here's the theory: For many adults, it's the insanely early start times of many school systems that drive families to cut way back on sleep. (The research on the benefits of later start times is pretty compelling, yet schools tend to cling to the early starts because--I kid you not, this is really the reason they give-- it's too much of a pain to rejigger their bus schedules.)

Come summer, kids are suddenly able to sleep later--most day camps, interestingly, manage to open one or two hours later in the morning than most schools insist on as their start time. When the kids can sleep later, so often can the parents. Voila: Everybody can stay up a bit later to enjoy long summer evenings and grab some extra winks at the same time.

The various studies on how much we sleep don't focus on seasonal differences, but they do lament our tendency to shave off sleep as a way to get more done. That's not about to change, but there are efforts to shift when we sleep toward a more civilized set of hours. Summer's the model for how that would work, and correct me if I'm wrong, but most folks seem to crave these few weeks of later awakenings. Your turn....

By Marc Fisher |  June 29, 2007; 8:02 AM ET
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Not at all. I get less sleep in summer because the sun comes up earlier and I continually have the unfortunate luck to get the bedroom on the east side of the house/apartment/dorm. Never fails. Plus everyone stays up later and I feel like a loser going to bed at 10 pm in the summer more than in the winter, so that screws me up, too.

Not everyone has kids and the dictates of a school schedule.

Posted by: MB | June 29, 2007 8:57 AM

I have light-induced insomnia. Mostly fixed by sitting in front of one of those lightboxes for a while each morning. Because there's less light in the winter I definitely find that my sleep is shorter and lower quality. When spring/summer rolls around, those 6.5 hour nights turn into wonderful 8-9 hour nights. Being more active during the summer months helps too - you're more tired at the end of the day.

Posted by: Sleepless, VA | June 29, 2007 9:10 AM

I have to say I probably sleep less in the summer. I want to be awake when it is light out. I'll wake up at 7am on a Saturday or Sunday and say to myself, "It's so nice out, I'd rather be up doing something than sleeping" whereas in the winter time the longer darknesses cause me to rationalize that "Eh, it's dark and cold out anyways, I might as well stay in bed and sleep more."

Also, in July and August, or late June, it get SUPER hot by 10am, so it's nice to be up early to water flowers or do outside things before 9 or 10am when possible.

No, I don't have kids yet, but have a regular 9 to 5 with one real late night of supplemental income work during the week.

Can't wait to wake up tomorrow morning to water the flowers on a nice cool summer 7:30 am morning!

Posted by: Ryan | June 29, 2007 10:21 AM

Nope, I sleep less in the summer, not more. My body wants to be awake when the sun is up and asleep when it is dark. I actually love this in the summer -- it feels wonderful to wake up at 5:30 naturally, feeling refreshed, and get an early jump on the day. The flip side is that I spend November - January feeling groggy and sleep-deprived, and constantly testing myself to see how late I can set the alarm and still get to work on time.

Posted by: Northern Girl | June 29, 2007 10:47 AM

I sleep less in the Summer time becuase I stay up later doing activities.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 29, 2007 10:56 AM

Most summer camps also do not have homework, tests, projects, or term papers. The river of stress that flows into my house from these assignments and the need to teach my children the time management skills to cope with them (and often the material they were poorly taught in school) is the major difference. As it happens, even though the kids' camp starts later, my wife and I still have to be at work at the same time. So, that later start time does not affect our sleep and cannot explain why I see summer as an enormous relief. It has to be the fact that I have less stress because my kids have less stress.

Also, on the explanation that the bus schedules are too hard to reconfigure, I believe you are skipping a few steps in the argument to make it look ridiculous. As I understand this debate, it has more to do with which set of students should start first (high school or elementary). Most districts have to re-use the same bus and have chosen to start with the teen agers. Along come the studies showing that teens are prone to dull minds if woken too early, and people advocate for reversing the order. But, those same teens also do a lot more after school. That is where the problem comes in. Since a later start naturally causes a later end, you have an even worse problem than you already do of fitting in all the enriching after-school programs that people like. In the end, school districts decide not to tinker with the bus schedule. One could still argue this is a sign of laziness and that with more effort they could draw a better balance between conflicting goals, but it is so much easier to skip the full explanation and imply the only impediment is that we already have a schedule that works.

Posted by: Bob | June 29, 2007 10:59 AM

I'll have plenty of time for sleep when I'm dead

Posted by: Anonymous | June 29, 2007 11:01 AM

My work hours don't change in the summer so neither does my sleep time.

It is a shame that MB can't handle the peer pressure and get enough sleep because everybody else is staying up late. Sometimes peer pressure dictates more than school.

As far as the school start times are concerned ... there are only so many buses available and they must be used to transport kids to Elementary, Middle, and High Schools. Putting all thoses ages together are out of the question for security reasons (12th graders and 1st graders on the same bus?!?!? Talk about asking for trouble).

It is interesting that the Middle Schoolers are picked up first, then Elementary Schoolers, then High Schoolers.

The High Schoolers get to sleep in the longest and they are the ones that complain the most about lack of sleep. Probably because they can't handle the peer pressure either.

Posted by: SoMD | June 29, 2007 11:17 AM

I get up earlier, at least on weekends, so that I can get some yard work done before it gets too hot. (Don't worry about the neighbors; I don't get out there until after 8:00, and would never run the lawnmower before 10:00.)

On a dark, cold winter morning, I want to stay under the nice, warm blankets.

It should be noted though, that I don't have children. The cats don't care if I go back to bed, as long as their breakfast is on time.

Posted by: WMA | June 29, 2007 11:31 AM

Sleeping is a waste of time. Too many things to do in the summer.

Posted by: Tracy | June 29, 2007 11:42 AM

I sleep less in the summer. I wake up early even in the winter, but it's easier to hop out of bed in the summer, and I feel like I have more energy. I don't have kids.

SoMD, in Fairfax the high schoolers get picked up first, then the middle schoolers, then elementary schoolers. I think that is the case in the majority of school districts.

WMA, if you get a manual push-reel mower, you can use it pretty much any time of day without waking the neighbors. You'll also get exercise and be carbon-neutral.

Posted by: Fairfax | June 29, 2007 11:58 AM

It really all depends. If I wake up to find that someone has turned the AC off, then I have to wake up because sleeping and laying down is uncomfortable. If I'm out late at night, I'd prefer to sleep until at least 8, which is impossible when I have to get up for work.
To be perfectly honest, no matter what season or month, I feel like I come up short on sleep most days because I've always got somewhere to be or someone who decides to call my cell at 7:30 on a Saturday, thinking I'm up when I'm still asleep.

And Mark, all I'm going to say is that it would've been better to use a word other than rejigger, but it's your blog.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | June 29, 2007 12:20 PM

What's wrong with rejigger?

Posted by: Rejigger | June 29, 2007 12:35 PM

Fairfax - that makes more sense to me too. We may be growing down here but a lot of decisions by the powers-that-be are determined by the who-you-know factor.

Does that make us DC? Oh, crap.

Posted by: SoMD | June 29, 2007 1:27 PM

YourStrawberry23: same question as Rejigger: What's wrong with rejigger?

From Merrium-Webster Online:

Main Entry: re•jig•ger
Pronunciation: (")rE-'ji-g&r
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: re- + 3jigger
: ALTER, REARRANGE

Posted by: SoMD | June 29, 2007 3:10 PM

I'm gonna guess that the "rejigger" comment was because the spelling of the word contains the last five letters of a naughty word and for some reason that person thinks that any word that even looks like an offensive word shouldn't be used.

I guess that person slept through most of school because it was too early.

Posted by: Looking to pick a fight | June 29, 2007 3:54 PM

Summer is my least favorite time of year. My work schedule doesn't change, my handicapped child's needs don't change, and I have to scramble to make sure that he is looked after while I am at work. The services and programs available during the school year suddenly evaporate during summer time, only to reappear once I am completely exhausted by the end of summer. I'll take September.

Posted by: TomatoQueen | July 5, 2007 4:37 PM

I just read this column in today's print edition of the Post. I have been actively involved in a grassroots organization, SLEEP(Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal; visit www.SLEEPinFairfax.org), founded by Fairfax County parents who are working to change the current unreasonably early start times for our adolescents.

Thank you for helping to spread the word about this issue. FCPS prides itself on being an enlightened system in many ways; and providing for the health and academic welfare of its students by having reasonable school hours is way overdue. Yes, it is a complicated issue and unfortunately yes, it is easier to wring our collective hands and say it can't be changed. Let's look at what our neighboring school systems have done to adjust their schedules and come up with a plan that fits the unique needs of our system. FCPS needs to meet this challenge; there are plenty of citizens who are ready, willing and able to help!

Posted by: Fairfax Station | July 10, 2007 9:00 AM

Love "rejigger"--it's the perfect word because it implies the frustration felt by parents who are TIRED of hearing this excuse. (Pun intended).

In Fairfax, there are teens getting on buses at 6 a.m. and before. Our alarm clocks are going off well before it would be time for me to get up for work.

No--we don't want to shift this too early bus schedule to our elementary students!

There is a better way. We are no longer willing to accept this excuse that the bus schedules are sacred. It's time to rejigger!

Posted by: Relishing summer sleep in Fairfax | July 11, 2007 12:01 PM

Rejigger is the perfect word, and that's exactly what we'll do here in Fairfax once I'm elected to the school board. However, the Fayette Kentucky story link (click on "pretty compelling") provides an important cautionary tale. We know it's the right thing to do and we won't let a little "rejiggering" stand in our way. But let's be careful to get all the stakeholders on board so we can avoid an emotionally charged political battle.

Posted by: Liz in Braddock | July 11, 2007 4:14 PM

I have a daughter in high school and a son in middle school in FCPS. Both catch the bus at 6:30 AM. Last year, my daughter was chronically tired and eventually was diagnosed with mono. My son would come home and sleep after school consistently. At these ages, kids aren't wired to go to bed early. This summer, when not in camps, they routinely sleep until 11 AM or noon (if I allow them to do so). I am involved with the grassroots SLEEP initiative because I want to advocate for later start times for cohorts that can obviously benefit from more sleep. I applaud your foray into this complex issue, and encourage you to continue to raise awareness on the importance of later start times. Stakeholders need to participate in the debate, and the issue needs to be examined and resolved--with the understanding that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome.

Posted by: Patty | July 13, 2007 9:51 AM

Thank God for SLEEP and the parents who are involved with it. Many school districts around the country have "regiggered" their transportation systems so that teens are not exhausted and dragging themselves through school. Fairfax County will hopefully soon follow Arlington and Loudon Counties. They worked it out, and so can we.

Posted by: Mike | July 13, 2007 1:39 PM

I too am a proud parent of two teens and a younger one. I know that my teens suffer trying to make it to school so early and attempt to learn Algebra 2, or History at 7:30 AM. Subjects for which one has to be totally awake. The teachers spend more time yelling "wake up" to the sleepy students than teaching the subject. That is why I support the organization "SLEEP." One of the national TV networks recognized SLEEPs superb effort in trying to change school start times. However, the entrenched educational leadership keeps that famous phrase-"Not on my watch."-alive. It is so easy to say, "it too hard," than to say, "let's try it." We are about to reach the 11th year analyzing this situation. Both my children and the one attending the Elementary school will graduate from High School before the educational leadership agrees that change is needed. They understand it, they know is needed, they know it can be done, but not on their watch. They rather leave office with the superior feeling of having won the debate and that they did not cave-in to the pressure--amazing. Just look around the neighbors, the nation, and tell us how they can do it, but we can't?

Posted by: vargasgbe | July 15, 2007 8:24 AM

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