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An editorial in the NY Times reminds us that teenagers like to sleep late. School starts early.
Research is showing that this is not just a preference — or even the result of late-night studying or instant messaging. It is rooted in their biological rhythms. The problem is, most high schools start so early that many teenagers have a hard time staying awake.
In a recent Op-Ed article in the Times a National Sleep Foundation survey was cited, in which more than a quarter of the students reported that they fell asleep in class at least once a week.
Researchers say that youngsters — beginning around age 12 until they reach their mid-20s — only start producing melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, around 11 p.m. That production peaks around 7 a.m.
In adults, melatonin peaks until around 4 a.m. So trying to wake up a teenager before 7 o’clock is like trying to awake an adult before 4 a.m.
An obvious remedy would be for high schools to start later — well after 8 a.m. A handful of schools that have switched have reported beneficial results.
In Minneapolis, school officials say that attendance improved and students’ grades rose slightly after they changed to an 8:40 a.m. start several years ago.
Wilton, Conn., where the high school start time was pushed back to 8:20 a.m. from 7:35, reports that teachers and parents have seen improved student behavior and greater alertness. Surveys of students in both districts indicated that they did not use the later starts as an excuse to go to bed later.
Numerous districts have considered the idea of later high school hours, only to drop it because of fierce adult opposition. Coaches complain that the later classroom hours in the afternoon would take time from their training programs and teams’ success. School bus companies would be forced to change their schedules. And many parents complained that they would have to adjust their own schedules.
Many school officials say more research is needed. Research, yes, say others, but remember that the goal is to educate youngsters — and they need to be awake for that.
source: NY Times editorial on 2/1/08. www.nytimes.com
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