This past school year classes started at 7:25 A.M. at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado. I hope that changes this fall because an early start time does not help make high performing, learning students.
When you were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen ... and perhaps for even a few more years ... sleep was a most enjoyable experience, to be indulged in for most of the morning, if possible. But only, of course, after you'd been up until at least eleven or twelve or one o'clock in the morning talking with your friends, listening to music, reading, goofing-off, maybe, maybe even occasionally studying.
That is the natural course for teenagers; it is a part of growing.
Now a new study says that students who get more sleep are psychologically healthier and will do better in school. The study's recommendation as reported in USA Today suggests that parents lower the boom and have a strict "lights out" rule for their kids. That notion sounds fine, but it contradicts reality.
The sleep patterns of teens provides a tie-in to a concrete, real-life example of how the 'schooling' impulses of the school administrators and educrats overcomes their rhetoric about supporting 'education'.
We've all been teenagers, many of us have raised teenagers -- we all know that adolescence is a growing, formative time for human beings -- and it is a special time for physical development. For instance, teens want to stay-up later in the evening probably because their minds are so active, but as growing people they still need their sleep. Despite this phase, of course, as parents or guardians, we need to give guidance and encourage routine for teens so that they begin to learn to be civil, productive adults.
When it comes to education, one would think that simple, common sense efforts could be made by the school bureaucracy to facilitate student success. But we've seen that this is not necessarily the case and the student-sleep condition is an example.
Many high schools across the nation insist upon starting the school day before 7:30 A.M. Now think about this. If a high school teen were to get eight hours of sleep, have an hour to get ready and travel to school -- the kid would have to be in bed asleep by 10:30 P.M. And let's get real, many students need much more than an hour to clean, dress, eat and be driven or drive to school in the morning (an early, early start to school makes walking for the student most difficult unless living only a very few blocks away) ... does any school principal think we're going to ever see teenagers going to bed before ten o'clock?
Certainly there needs to be a routine for students and parents can do their part. But teenagers are not adults, they are what they are and their mental and physical health should be a top concern ... so school administrators need to do their part, too.
So, while building a daily schedule for our high schoolers, their psychological and biological imperatives shouldn't be harshly repressed just for the convenience of extra curricular activities, administrators or teachers -- doing so will ultimately have the opposite of the results desired.
Indeed, the National Sleep Foundation has long recommended that what is actually needed is a later school start time for high school attendees. I quote here from the excerpt below: "Schools that have set later bell times find that students do not go to bed later, but get one hour more of sleep per school night, which means five hours more per week. Enrollment and attendance improves and students are more likely to be on time when school starts." We additionally know that when kids get in trouble, it happens after school, rarely before school when most kids would rather be ... sleeping.
Why high school principals and administrators do not adopt a later start time as a common sense, practical help for their students is hard to understand, but they haven't. You would think that students armed with something as simple as more sleep, who could pay more attention and get better grades would be the kind of thing principals and teachers would advocate for ... but they don't.
Parents want to and try and usually do accept responsibility for raising their children, but we also expect that the government in the form of the school system not fight us in doing the best things for the kids.
Let's hope we see in light of this latest study on teens and sleep that high schools begin having later start times -- will they really put their students first, even at the risk of a bit more inconvenience for themselves and their staffs.
Study Links Teen Depression to Bedtimes | USA Today
Teens whose parents let them stay up after midnight on weeknights have a much higher chance of being depressed or suicidal than teens whose parents enforce an earlier bedtime, says research being presented today at a national sleep conference.
The findings are the first to examine bedtimes' effects on kids' mental health — and the results are noteworthy. Middle- and high-schoolers whose parents don't require them to be in bed before midnight on school nights are 42% more likely to be depressed than teens whose parents require a 10 p.m. or earlier bedtime. And teens who are allowed to stay up late are 30% more likely to have had suicidal thoughts in the past year. ...
... The NIH survey found that kids whose parents called for a 9-10 p.m. bedtime said they were in bed, on average, by 10:04 p.m. They slept for 8 hours and 10 minutes on average, compared with 7½ hours for kids allowed to stay up past midnight.
The lesson for parents is simple, Gangwisch says: Try as much as possible to sell teenagers on the importance of getting enough sleep — even if it seems that they don't need as much as younger children (actually, they need as much — about nine hours — but usually get only 7½ hours or so, according to the NIH).
If teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep to do their best and naturally go to sleep around 11:00 pm, one way to get more sleep is to start school later.
Teens' natural sleep cycle puts them in conflict with school start times. Most high school students need an alarm clock or a parent to wake them on school days. They are like zombies getting ready for school and find it hard to be alert and pay attention in class. Because they are sleep deprived, they are sleepy all day and cannot do their best.
Schools that have set later bell times find that students do not go to bed later, but get one hour more of sleep per school night, which means five hours more per week.
Enrollment and attendance improves and students are more likely to be on time when school starts. Parents and teachers report that teens are more alert in the morning and in better moods; they are less likely to feel depressed or need to visit the nurse or school counselor.