It's the holidays and everyone seems exhausted. Experts keep telling us how important it is to get enough sleep but we're all lighting the candles at both ends as we slide into the dark days of December. The National Sleep Foundation says way too many kids aren't getting to bed early enough and consequently are unable to "be alert, pay attention, solve problems, cope with stress and retain information." It's especially bad for teenagers.
Recently, the Sleep Foundation raised the number of hours of sleep needed for some age groups. For example, it's recommended that toddlers get 11- 14 hours, preschoolers 10- 13 hours, elementary and middle school kids 9- 11 hours, teenagers 8 - 10 hours and adults 7- 9 hours. If you're over 65 like us, eight hours will do just fine.
But really, how many of us take it seriously? Parent blogs show a lot of angst about babies and toddlers sleep patterns because it affects everyone's life. Then, by school age, sleep seems like a more casual concern because there's so much else to worry about. Parents earnestly try to convince teens to get to bed earlier because school often begins at 7:30 or even before! Teachers watch them approach the day like zombies.
Study after study shows that most teens are sleep deprived because their adolescent bodies are programmed to stay up late and wake up later in the morning. In other words, they can't settle down to rest even if they go to bed early. Experts say that when they wake up at 6:30 am it's the equivalent of us waking up at 3:30 am. (Ugh!) The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Brookings Institute both recommend pushing the start time of high schools to later in the day.
Yet, little children can fall asleep at a reasonable time, wake up with the sun... and begin school earlier with a good learning outcome. Ironically, their start times for school are generally scheduled later in the morning!
There's a famous Rand study that shows that not only student health would improve, but it would also boost graduation rates, raise lifetime earning potential, and lower the risk of fatigue-related car crashes, all of which could potentially contribute at least $83 billion to the US economy within a decade.
With all the emphasis on test results, how can this information be ignored? Why don't we schedule high schools to begin later- say, at 8:30 am- and if necessary for transportation purposes, have elementary schools begin earlier? It literally seems like a no-brainer.
Many schools have made the change. Kentucky, Connecticut and Virginia have upended their districts to make their high schools start later in the day. Boston, California and other locations have also looked at it seriously.
Our grandchildren attend Edina High School in Minnesota, which is rated 6th in the state. Elementary schools open earlier and the middle and high schools open later.
I was astonished to read their website:
"At its meeting on March 19, the Edina School Board approved new school start and end times. The new times, which represents a swap of the current start/end times for five of the district’s elementary schools and both of its middle schools, will be implemented this fall for the 2018-19 school year. The change aligns with research showing support of adolescent wellness."
The feedback from our family is that this change has made all the difference in the world!
Others schools have not moved in this direction, citing "logistics." transportation costs, after school activities, sports events, parental concerns about child care and kids with part time jobs. While I was researching this issue I came across a "Start Schools Later" website with local chapters. Clearly, I'm not the only one who's been paying attention!
Sleep expert James Mass, a Cornell University Professor says, "Rather than the ‘early to bed…’ adage, the new adage should be, ‘Wake up later and your grades will be greater.’
It seems that the compelling evidence for teens to begin school later has been around for many years. By now, a lot of kids have passed through the system and many parents have grown tired of advocating for an educational movement to make this a priority.
Of course, they're not as tired as teens.
(Minnesota is well known for curling! Congrats to the boys!)