Sleep Care

Early School Start Times

There is much debate over whether school start times should be later and what

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effect this would have on children. It is estimated that only 20% of school children are getting the recommended amount of sleep, yet the school day remains earlier. Research indicates that optimal alertness in adolescents requires over 9 hours of sleep nightly. However, surveys have revealed that approximately 3,000 9th-12th grade students self reported that their school-night total sleep time was 7 hours.

Opponents argue that a change in start times would have little impact on the children but would create a number of problems for those working around the school days; the parents, the childcare providers, the after school programs, the bussing schedule and drivers, and many more. If the day started later, then parents may have to make different arrangement for daycare for their younger children. After school programs, such as athletics would have to rearrange practices and games. Bus drivers would have to change their work day schedule. Opponents feel that the cost associated with changing school times would outweigh any benefits that the children would experience.

Supporters of later start times believe that early class times are having a greater negative impact on the mental and physical health of students than many officials realize. A study was conducted with 47 eighth grade students separated in two classrooms. One classroom started at the typical time of 7:30 am, while the other class was pushed back to 8:30 am. The study evaluated the attentiveness and performance of the students in the two classrooms to assess which start yielded better results. The outcome of the study showed that the students who started at 8:30 am were more attentive, less tired, performed better, made less mistakes and were overall happier. Interesting how one more hour of sleep helped improve the overall performance of one classroom. But could this be an isolated situation? Many people don’t think so. The effects of shifting sleep patterns are compounded by the burdens older students face in academics, extracurricular activities, social occasions, after-school jobs, and other responsibilities. “Sleep isn’t a priority for teenagers, and it typically isn’t made one by parents or schools.”-Jodi Mindell, PhD, Director of Psychology at St. Joseph’s University.

In addition to the children’s attentiveness, there is the growing concern of childhood obesity in America. Numerous studies indicate that a primary risk for obesity, behind diet and exercise, is inadequate sleep. Sleep deprivation is known to increase appetite while decreasing metabolism leading to the consumption of more calories than can be burned. Later class start times would likely lessen the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

Teenage sleep deprivation is largely driven by a conflict between teens’ internal biological clocks and the schedules and demands of society. Mary A. Carskadon, a PhD at Brown University in the Psychiatry and Human Behavior Department at Brown University states, “Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners.” Yet, despite the numerous studies that show how important it is for school age children to get enough sleep, and how detrimental starting classes at such early hours in the morning, many school days still begin before the sun comes up.

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