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Should schools let teens sleep in longer?

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Greg Peck
September 17, 2013

Any parent of a teenager probably understands the problem well, particularly now that school is back in session. That alarm clock rings, and nothing in that kid's bedroom stirs.

Arne Duncan, U.S. education secretary, understands. He suggests that a later start to the school day could help teens get the most from classroom time and that school districts should consider delaying the first bell. Local districts could still set their own start times, Duncan suggested, but he pointed to research that suggests rested students are ready students.

Why do teens struggle to get up in time to get to school?

“Teen brains have a different biology,” Kyla Wahlstrom, director at the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement, told reporter Philip Elliott in The Associated Press story.

Wahlstrom has studied teens' sleep cycles, brains and learning for the past 17 years. She has concluded that schools that want ready students must have students arrive rested. She says absenteeism, tardiness, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents all decline when students get good nights of sleep. That means between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep, most medical professionals recommend.

Some schools have gotten the message. In 2011, Virginia's Fairfax County Public School District surveyed students in grades 8, 10 and 12 and found two-thirds of them were sleeping seven hours or less each school night. Among high school seniors, 84 percent slept less than seven hours.

That prompted this large school district to partner with the Children's National Medical Center's Division of Sleep Medicine to study students' nighttime habits this year and consider pushing its start time to 8 a.m. or later, Elliott reported.

The fix isn't simple. Bus schedules drive school start times, and busing costs are also a factor. Districts also must consider after-school jobs, extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports. Also, if you start high school kids later, districts might have to start school days for elementary kids earlier, and parents don't want young kids out on the streets when it's still dark.

Still, do you think your school district look into the possibilities of starting high school classes later?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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