Getting a teenager out of bed in the morning is like getting a whelk out of a shell: there’s a definite knack to it and you often end up with a disappointing result.
Many beleaguered parents will, on that basis, be rather delighted at developments this week highlighting the possibility that letting the little beggars snore at least until double figures, might actually be better for them and their future prospects than dragging back the bedclothes and frogmarching them to the shower at the pace of the theme music to Chariots of Fire.
As someone who could and can sleep for Scotland, I have a certain middle-aged sympathy with the slugabeds.
Even at my time of life, my ideal day would probably start about noon and run until 4am.
As a (much younger) colleague once remarked, if I was as tired when I went to bed at night as I was when I got up in the morning, I would sleep like a log and be up with the lark.
Bailie Dr Nina Baker, Green Party councillor for the Anderston/City ward of Glasgow, reckons that academic research, including a recent report in New Scientist, signals that as puberty and hormonal changes sets in, teenagers develop different sleep habits and need different sleep patterns compared to either younger children or adults.
To perform better, she says, their very particular biological make-up should be taken into account to improve all aspects of school performance from attendance to results and that can mean a later start to the school day.
Her motion to Glasgow City Council states that a waking up time of 7am for a teenager is the equivalent of a 5am wake-up call for an older adult.
“The normal school start time of 9am means that many or most teenagers arrive at school much more tired than their teachers, with proven bad results for memory and learning.
UK schools that have experimented with a school day starting at 10am for teenagers have found that the youngsters achieved higher grades.”
Dr Baker said: “The fact that adolescent brains undergo significant physical changes has been known to scientists for a while and the New Scientist article put that into perspective for me, especially the results from UK schools.
“My own children, one of whom was nocturnal and the other very much a day person, are adults themselves now so it wasn’t directly personal but I felt it would be interesting to see where this data might take us in terms of policy-making.
“It’s thought that most young teens are about 10 minutes short on sleep each day and by the time they leave school, that’s become half an hour, which is a lot in a week.”
The ideal adult average is seven to eight hours’ sleep a night but for adolescents, less than nine on a regular basis is counter-productive.
New Scientist underlined the importance of accommodating the alteration in adolescent sleep requirements, as well as taking into account societal changes that affect this fundamental biological necessity easygoing parental attitudes to bedtimes, increased TV watching or use of computers and mobile phone technology can lead to sleep deprivation.
“I spoke to the charity Sleep Scotland, who do a lot of fantastic work, especially for those with special needs, and it is possible to arrange the evening to have a better chance of getting to sleep.
“It’s important to acknowledge the effects of lifestyle choices but because of recognised chemical triggers, young people fall asleep later and that cuts the sleep time they have. Righting that at the other end makes sense.”
It’s also not about regular lie-ins as a concession to teenage moodiness.
Dr Baker said: “A lie-in is what you have on a non-school morning. Starting the academic part of school a little later is about recognising biological factors and offering practical measures that make it easier for young people to learn and work better at a time of huge physical and emotional changes.”
Many of the objections to potential changes are about the disruption of family timetables and routines.
Dr Baker added: “A lot of it seems to be about the convenience of others, not what might be tailored in the best interests of young people of this age.
“You wouldn’t put 6th year pupils into Primary 1-sized desks because they just don’t fit.
“And, of course, there are arguments that other countries start the school day even earlier and don’t do badly. That isn’t to say that a change like this might not help them to do even better.”