Addressing Sleep Deprivation: The Debate Over High School Start Time Change
I came across this story on the news wire today
"Las Vegas' high school students could be getting some extra time to sleep in. Tomorrow, the Nevada State Board of Education will meet to discuss the possibility of changing high school start times in the valley. Some schools sent a survey to parents about the issue earlier this week. Some Clark County School District schools changed their start and dismissal times at the beginning of this school year. The CCSD cited a bus driver shortage for the later start times."
This is in Vegas, but it brings up a topic that has been simmering below the surface for some time now, the topic of sleep.
I don't know about you, but when I was in high school I didn't sleep enough. In fact, it wasn't even close.
I would regularly stay up until after midnight or 1 a.m. and then have to be at the school before 8 a.m. My clock (I thought I was unique) was wired for late nights and getting up for first period at school was a frightful experience. I had a buddy my junior and senior years in high school that would take turns driving with me.
We each would take a week at a time, with the understanding that after a couple of honks in the morning, if one of us didn't come stumbling out, the other would go on to school and assume sleep won that morning.
Mel was heroic in getting me up sometimes. He'd throw things at the window. If the door was unlocked, he'd come in and holler at me. And occasionally, as per our agreement, he would just go on to school without me.
But one thing was clear: I wasn't getting enough sleep. And even sleeping in on the weekends wasn't making up for it.
From the Johns Hopkins pediatrician Michael Crocetti, M.D., M.P.H. "Teens need 9 to 9½ hours of sleep per night -- that’s an hour or so more than they needed at age 10. Why? “Teenagers are going through a second developmental stage of cognitive maturation. Additional sleep supports their developing brain, as well as physical growth spurts. It also helps protect them from serious consequences like depression or drug use."
One reason for teens' needs to stay up late, according to Johns Hopkins sleep expert Laura Sterni, M.D., is that, "Teens experience a natural shift in circadian rhythm. This makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Add in early school start times and an increase in homework, extracurricular activities and sometimes a part-time job, and sleep deprivation in teens becomes common."
So maybe the state of Nevada has the right idea when it talks about moving the start time back an hour or two.
I queried Washington County School District spokesman Steve Dunham and WCSD board member LaRene Cox about this. It doesn't seem likely in Washington County.
"I'm not going to say it's impossible. Never say never," Dunham said. "But because we transport so many students every day (via school bus), our transportation logistics become our biggest challenge. Plus, when we look at later start times, then that interferes with extracurricular things, work opportunities, and family opportunities and activities."
Cox added that it also makes for major problems in the family dynamic.
"I know many parents that work at 8 a.m. and knowing that their child is safe in school, in their seat, and they can go to work and be comfortable that their child is taken care of until after school when they can get them home -- that says a lot," Cox said.
Another study, from the Sleep Foundation website, "Sleep benefits the brain and promotes attention, memory, and analytical thought. It makes thinking sharper, recognizing the most important information to consolidate learning. Sleep also facilitates expansive thinking that can spur creativity . Whether it’s studying for a test, learning an instrument, or acquiring job skills, sleep is essential for teens.
So local officials aren't yet convinced that the trade-off morning sleep benefits vs. infringement on early evening activities is worth it. At least not yet.
But it's always helpful to remember that we are all different. I was never good at Algebra, but excelled in writing. One of my sons was a great theoretical learner, another was a hands-on kind of guy.
Some kids would learn better at 10 a.m. than they ever would at 8 a.m.
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Gallery Credit: Rob Carroll