High schoolers need more sleep.
That truism has received about as mainstream a hearing as is possible in this country -- Parade magazine in the edition circulated in the Denver Post on Sunday, November 28, 2010, contains this information in an article entitled "Inside The Teenage Brain":
I first wrote on this topic in June 2009 in the essay "Sleeping Colorado High School Teens". Since then another study was released showing that start times for high school students need to be later ... I wrote about that in July 2010 ("Wake Up, Jeffco Schools!").Beginning in puberty and continuing into the early 20s, adolescents need from 8.4 to 9.2 hours of sleep on average a night, compared with 7.5 to 8 hours for adults. Perhaps even more critical -- and obvious to anyone who has had to drag a once-perky kid out of bed by the heels at 7 a.m. -- the circadian rhythms of teenagers shift.
In a pair of related studies published in 1993 and 1997 by Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of the Sleep Research program at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, Carskadon and colleagues found that more physically mature girls preferred activities later in the day than did less-mature girls and that the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin rises later in teenagers than in children and adults. Translation: Teenagers are physically programmed to stay up later and sleep later.
It's no surprise, then, that previous research has shown that up to 20% of high-schoolers fall asleep during the first two hours of school. According to a study done by Kyla Wahlstrom at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, later start times for high school students would be beneficial. Wahlstrom collected data from two districts in Minnesota that moved the start time for high school about an hour later; there was a significant reduction in dropout rates and depression. [Emphasis added]
My message remains the same: it is foolish and counterproductive to fight nature -- start high school classes no earlier than nine o'clock in the morning. My daughter, attending Pomona High School, begins at 7:25 A.M. Not only is that a ridiculous time for a sixteen year old to be trying to pay attention to much of anything, but it also means that virtually every student has to be driven to school ... it is dark, it is cold, it is early ... creating a dangerous traffic snarl every morning (one of these days a kid is going to be injured crossing Wadsworth or Pomona Drive at that hour).
More importantly, if simply beginning classes at a reasonable time for teens can mean a "significant reduction in dropout rates", then it should be a "no brainer" to make the change.
Come on Jeffco administrators, stop sleeping on the job and do what is best for our high school students -- start school later.