By Susan Lamontagne
If you struggle to roust your teen or pre-teen from bed to get to school on time, you’re not alone—and it’s not their fault.
Sleep research is relatively new, and it is found that teenagers’ changing hormones interfere with their sleep cycle making it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and rise before 8 a.m. Imagine what that means for the 13 year old who has to wake at 6:15 a.m. to catch a 6:45 a.m. bus and focus in math class by 7:25 a.m.
“Oh please,” you might be saying. “I had to get up early for school when I was a kid.” True, but that’s because we didn’t know any better.
A bad night’s sleep can make you tired and cranky, but sleep deprivation can lead to depression, trouble concentrating, memory problems and worse. And alarming numbers of teens are suffering from sleep deprivation largely due to early school start times.
Before you dismiss this as a bunch of mumbo jumbo, consider the results from districts that have already made the switch. Minnesota school districts that moved their start times later saw an increase in attendance, a decrease in depression, improved test scores, and a drop in sports-related injuries.
In Kentucky counties that moved their school start times later, attendance and test scores went up significantly in one, while teen driving related crash rates fell 16.5% in the other. And those crash rates dropped at the same time teen driver crash rates went up in the rest of the state.
One year after Nauset, Massachusetts moved their school start times an hour later, failing grades dropped 53% and student disciplinary suspensions plummeted from 166 in the first two months of the previous school year to 19 this year.
The research is clear. Later school start times lead to better health and improved academic and physical performance. They have also been linked to lower teen alcohol and drug abuse, fewer suicide attempts, and reductions in childhood obesity and eating disorders. School districts in 34 states are making the switch.
So what are we waiting for?
The three most common reasons schools are resistant to moving start times are:
1. Bus schedules;
2. Sports schedules; and,
School districts that have made the switch have found solutions to each of these problems. Here in Sag Harbor, the buses are often half full. Perhaps routes can be combined, picking up both elementary and Pierson students simultaneously. Later start times may also encourage more students to walk or bike to school, a win-win for our kids’ health and the environment.
If you think sports is an insurmountable barrier, look at Wilton, Connecticut, one of the biggest sports schools in the country. Wilton moved its high school start time an hour later and maintained its full sports schedule (balancing far more teams than we do). And they won the boys lacrosse state championship the same year they moved the start time – a title that had eluded them several years prior.
As for cost, I bet Sag Harbor can find a way to move Pierson’s start times without incurring an additional cent. If not, wouldn’t the price be worth it to improve the health and lives of our teenagers?
Think about the gifts you are giving your children this holiday season. Does any one of them promise better academic and athletic performance? A later Pierson start time is a gift that will lead to happier, healthier kids, and will keep on giving over the course of their lifetimes.
Susan Lamontagne is a health advocate and co-director of Start School Later Long Island. Learn more at www.startschoolllater.net or Facebook/startschoollater.