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Experts: Let teens sleep

Local advocate promotes education, dialogue on later school start times in Portage County

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published: September 15, 2013 4:00 AM
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Like many teens, Audra Grimm's parents want her to get more sleep.

Grimm, 16, junior class president at Kent's Theodore Roosevelt High School, participates in at least a half dozen extracurricular activities. She sleeps about six hours a night before making the 7:25 a.m. starting bell at school.

Grimm, who said she strives to be a "well-rounded student," said she often feels drowsy in the morning.

"I have so much going on," Grimm said, "I just say I can sleep when I'm dead."

A nationwide movement, bolstered by decades of research, is encouraging school districts across the country to consider pushing back school start times to at least 8:30 a.m. or, ideally, 9 a.m. so students like Grimm have more time to sleep.

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Stacy Simera, a Kent social worker and chairwoman of the northeast Ohio chapter for the national non-profit Start School Later, Inc. campaign, says the research shows adolescents are primed to fall asleep later at night, usually after 11 p.m., and that they should slumber 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours each night. Such optimum sleep schedules are ultimately tied to better health, behavior and student performance in adolescents, Simera said.

The reason is because of circadian sleep rhythms and a body's release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone most students in puberty are fighting off in the early morning.

"So in first, second period, these students are pumping out this hormone that's telling them to sleep," Simera said. "What time kids fall asleep is dictated by Mother Nature, but we're dictating their wake-time by their alarm clock."

While Grimm usually rides to school with her parents, many teenage students wake up even earlier to catch buses that pick up their first riders as early as 6 a.m.

Some schools across the country have begun to adopt later start times for high school students, who typically start their days earlier than their grade-school counterparts.

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The Associated Press has reported 40 percent of U.S. public high schools open before 8 a.m., according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, and that only 15 percent start classes at a recommended 8:30 a.m. or later time.

In Portage County, high schools typically start between 7 and 8 a.m.

Ravenna High School is among the earliest with school starting at 7:15 a.m. Windham High School starts at 8:05 a.m.

But Simera would like to see every Portage school adopt even later times not just as an advocate and social worker, but as a parent with children in Rootstown schools.

Simera noted some districts find it difficult to adjust start times because of the effects on everything from busing schedules to extracurricular activities to a teenager's availability for a part-time job. She noted many also believe students will simply stay up later if they know they can sleep in later, which others argue is a misconception.

Earlier starting times were shot down in Rootstown last year because of a concern of such issues.

"Part of what we were told was that if students didn't have to get up until later they would be better rested and more alert throughout the day," said Michael Ferguson, principal of Rootstown High School. "Practically speaking we know that if students, and adults, are aware that they can sleep in longer, they usually stay up later, which negates any benefits of a later start time."

Grimm said she'd appreciate a later start time at high school if it didn't greatly affect end times, but said she'd probably sleep to within an hour of the school bell regardless.

However, Danylo Lazrentovich, 17, a senior at Theodore Roosevelt High School, said he goes to bed around 11 p.m. now and would take advantage of the extra hour of sleep. He thinks other students might as well.

"If school could start later, overall, I think it would be better for student participation and focus," he said. "I know if I wake up later, if I can get up during the light, I feel better and more awake."

Aurora High School Principal Mike Roberto and Ravenna High School Principal Lorie Marozzi both said they wouldn't support later times. Aurora's first bell rings at 7:40 a.m.

Locally, Simera's advocacy for later school start times has drawn support from Portage County commissioners, the Portage Mental Health and Recovery Board, fellow Kent State University faculty and the Kent Police Department, among others, based on the research.

Even if schools move times closer to 8 a.m., Simera believes that's a "move in the right direction," adding she's hopeful districts will pursue discussions on the topic.

Hudson City Schools in Summit County moved its high school start time from 7:20 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. in the fall of 2009 following a two-year study initiated by parents and faculty.

Hudson Superintendent Philip Herman said several adjustments were made, many for the better. He said busing, for example, actually became more cost efficient. As a result of the process, the district now runs two bus tiers instead of three.

Surveying a year or so after the change suggested the consensus was students and faculty were happy with the new time.

"If we have an opportunity to look at practices and there's a way to adjust scheduling to better meet student needs or health, I think we have an obligation to look at that," Herman said. "But no one should adopt new start times just based on research ­-- that should be information to drive the process. Community involvement is essential, and you have to involve representatives of all the stakeholders to make the best decision."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC


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redleg6 Sep 16, 2013 6:33 PM

I joined the Army at age 17, and believe me, your US Army doesn't care about 8.5 hours of sleep. On my 18th birthday (1968) I was sent to Vietnam. I came home at 20, and still was not able to drink or vote.  Besides you didn't get much sleep in the jungle. So I guess being sleep deprived in high school paid off, may have saved my life on occasion. Plus my undeveloped brain got promoted to Sgt. E-5.

I am 63 now and stay up late 12, 1, 2, 3 am, check out the perimeter, then go to bed, and I still get up at 5/6 am.  Go figure.

Quit whinning. Go to bed, Go to sleep!

anonymous_59290 Sep 16, 2013 4:40 PM

@ohioparent: The article states that 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep is what teens need - so my math was correct based on the times I wrote.  10pm to 6:30 am equals 8.5 hours yes?  And yes, they need to be prepared to work a job from 7am or 8am or earlier as an adult (or take college classes that start all hours of the day), and be prepared (and taught) to be responsible for going to bed at a time that they can allow their own bodies to rest.  We are preparing them to be adults, I did not say they are adults yet - your comparison to voting and buying alcohol is baseless.  If you are so concerned with your child getting 9 hours of sleep, then make them get to bed earlier. 

By the way - my parents made me be in bed by 9 or 10 in highschool.  That school still opens and closes the same time it did 15 years ago when I was in school, just after 7am.  Having a late start/dismisal time would have hurt any after school jobs we had (underage children are limited to how late they can work) or sports we played.  We lived through it, I am successful and went to school with many successful people.

ohioparent Sep 16, 2013 4:09 PM

Redleg and Anonymous, the actual math would be 8:30 to 9pm bedtimes for teens who have to rise between 5:30 and 6:00am to catch the 6:30am bus.   Since teens apparently are on a different wavelength than little kids an 8:30pm bedtime is futile - just ask any teen or parent of teens.  And if teens are supposed to be so ready for the 'real world' why don't we let them vote or buy alcohol or drive with 6 friends in a car?  We don't because their brains aren't fully developed and they are still growing - which is why they need their sleep - so that hopefully when we do give them the power to vote or right to buy alcohol they'll be healthy and smart enough to make the right choices.  Plus schools didn't use to start as early as they do now. 

redleg6 Sep 16, 2013 3:06 PM

@ohioparent...Your quote: "Teens will respond to daylight savings, namely 'spring forward', same as all of us"

If you believe that, then why make a fuss about school start times? Do like anonymous_59290 stated: if they must wake at 6 or 6:30 for school, then put them to bed by 10pm. Teens need to be prepared for the real world. 

 

 

 

anonymous_59290 Sep 16, 2013 2:36 PM

If studies show that a teen needs 8.5-9 hours of sleep a night, and if they must wake at 6 or 6:30 for school, then put them to bed by 10pm. Teens need to be prepared for the real world.  How many decades have "teens" been going to school by 8am?

ohioparent Sep 16, 2013 11:04 AM

Redleg - Teens will respond to daylight savings, namely 'spring forward', same as all of us - with increased auto accidents and compromised cardiac health.  Dr. Rosekind, Director of the National Transportation Safety Board, wrote an interesting article about it: http://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/spring-forward-and-fall-back-on-transportation-safety/

 

redleg6 Sep 15, 2013 12:07 PM

Lets just say the schools changed the start times. What happens to the teens bio/clock when we set the clock 1 hour ahead in the spring and 1 hour back in the fall?

Would we have to change start times to correspond to the daylight savings time? PLEASE EXPLAIN.

I read some of the sleep studies, all experts agree that we (teens included) can reset our circadian rhythm bio/clock. It maybe difficult at first, but it can be done if you want to do it.

Maybe that is to much trouble for parents to do, but do it for your kids. Only the parents can make sure the child is getting enough sleep. It is not the schools start times or the schools problem.... It's the parents problem. Make the kids adjust their schedules accordingly, and use their time wisely, and get some sleep!

What does happen to Johnny's bio/clock when we spring forward 1 hour and fall back 1 hour?