Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"


by John at 6/06/2005 10:17:00 AM

Early school start times questioned

June 6, 2005

BY JIM RITTER Health Reporter

An Evanston Township High School study has found that students lose nearly two hours of sleep each weeknight and show up groggy when classes start around 8 a.m.

The study in the journal Pediatrics adds to a mountain of research showing that teenage body clocks are out of sync with high schools' early start times.

Sixty students who kept sleep diaries reported that during the summer, they slept an average of 8.7 hours on weeknights. But once school began, their sleep decreased to seven hours per night.

The study provides further evidence of the "epidemic of sleep deprivation among adolescents," researchers wrote.

Students in the study all took an identical advanced placement biology class, beginning either at 8:10 a.m., 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. Performance tests showed that students in the earliest class were more tired and less alert and had to work harder.

Early in the morning, students "tend to be passive and sleepy. They're not as talkative and don't ask as many questions," said Martha Hansen, who taught the biology classes and is lead author of the study. Hansen's four co-authors are Northwestern University researchers.

Hormonal influences

Evanston Township senior Kalin Meyer, who graduated Sunday, said he typically stayed up until midnight or later studying. Meyer, who was not involved in the study, said he needed two alarm clocks to wake up at 6:30 a.m. so he wouldn't be late for his first-period Spanish class.

"I don't get focused and going until 9:30 or 10 a.m.," he said. "It's hard to speak English first thing in the morning, let alone Spanish."

Sleep is triggered by production of the hormone melatonin. During adolescence, production is delayed, so teens have trouble getting to sleep. Consequently, their bodies want to stay up late and sleep late.

"It looks like we're pumping them out of their cycle when we start them at 8 a.m.," Hansen said.

Teens at least should be allowed to sleep late on weekends, said Northwestern researcher Margarita Dubocovich. "They're not being lazy or antisocial."

Many high schools begin around 8 a.m. or earlier. Researchers suggested schools consider later start times.

Seven Minneapolis high schools did that in 1997, when they pushed back start times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. Attendance improved, and there was a slight boost in grades. On average, students slept one hour more each weeknight, dispelling fears they would just stay up later, according to a 2001 University of Minnesota study.

Community meeting planned

However, later start times would mean later dismissal times, and this could complicate scheduling of sports and other after-school activities.

Next fall, Evanston Township plans to hold a community meeting to describe the study and discuss the school schedule, a spokeswoman said. Researchers also suggested that standardized tests begin later than 8 a.m.

The study also found that exposing students to bright light in the morning did not help them adjust their body clocks or boost early morning performance.

If we let the kids start their first classes later in the morning, how are we going to train them to get up early so they can go to work on the factory floor after they graduate? If we let them out later in the afternoon to make up for later start times, when are they going to do all their chores around the farm?

It's bad enough that school starts just after Labor Day. They can't help out with the late harvest and that's when I need them the most!

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