Suck It Up and Wake Up Early

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Policymakers always have a way of taking perfectly good science and coming up with breathtakingly awful proposals.

The latest is the move to regulate sleep for kids. First the scientific community seized on some studies that suggested adolescents are not getting enough sleep nowadays. Seems, according to scientists, that teens like to stay up late at night and keep to their beds in the mornings. (One wonders the "eureka" moment the lab-coated geniuses must have had when they discovered this news. I could have saved them the trouble by letting them into my daughter's room. At noon.)

Using science to learn that teens don't like strict bedtimes and hate school is one thing. But, what to do about this dangerous trend? Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics last month suggested changing the time school begins, to accomodate those who want to have a bit of a lie-in before class. The AAP suggested "middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later" because that would "align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents."

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True to form, lawmakers have seized on this. In New Jersey, for instance, there will be legislation to force school districts to delay the start of classes, for the good of our children. No doubt other states will follow suit. Have to get those potential voters when they're young, after all. 

But it would be a wrongheaded move, and would actually set us back. You see, rising early, struggle as it may be, is a sign of drive, of success, of motivation and of wealth. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why waking up early is a way to stand out and be successful. It is among the most common traits of successful entrepreneurs. Healthy, wealthy and wise, and all that.

So why not encourage that? Well, scientists and lawmakers will tell you that a lack of sleep is a danger to our youth. The APP, for instance, notes that "adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance." Probably true, but it misses a point -- and an alternative.

How about going to sleep a bit earlier to make sure you get more Z's at home and fewer D's in school?

It really is simple. If we believe children need eight hours of sleep a night, and we insist on waking them up at 6 a.m., then it goes to figure that tucking in the little angels at 10 p.m. should do the trick. Eight hours is still eight hours, after all. Even under Common Core.

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There are two advantages to this approach. For one thing, it doesn't require legislation, but rather puts the responsibility for the problem back where it belongs: in the home. If your kid is tired, make her go to bed. And do it right, with discussions about how insidious keeping to your Sealy Posturepedic in the morning can be. Lay off the easy way out, like Ambien. Kids are on enough drug cocktails nowadays.

Secondly, this early-to-bed approach has the benefit of not needing taxpayer dollars. We won't waste lawmakers' time debating the merits of an 8:15 a.m. start time vs. 8:20 a.m. Boards of Education won't devote hours to speeches at microphones in musty gymnasiums, hearing from parents both for and against sleep. Teacher unions won't demand extra pay for working later in the evening. We will save money. We will save time. We will handle other issues more pressing to our youth, like onerous student debt loans, hazing and naked selfies on Snapchat.

We might even do something remarkable: encourage and foster the kinds of traits in our adolescents that might actually help them grow into entrepreneurs. They can be creative, innovative, disruptive (in a good way, mind you) and -- listen closely Mom and Dad -- financially self-sufficient as soon as possible.

Sleep on that thought.

Just don't sleep in.

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