Build Our School Schedules on Sleep
by Elizabeth Seagull, Lansing State Journal, February 22,
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A recent Lansing
State Journal front page carried the headline, "A good night's
sleep can spark creativity." The accompanying article reported
the latest finding from a German research group showing
volunteers who got eight hours of sleep were three times more
likely than sleep-deprived participants to figure out a hidden
rule for solving math problems.
A few years ago the same group published a study showing that
performance on a test of fine motor skills was significantly
improved by adequate sleep. In fact, in recent years, study
after study has been reported documenting evidence that adequate
sleep improves performance on a variety of tests of memory,
concentration, problem solving, and attention, as well as
reducing depression and irritability. The simple take-home
message is that adequate sleep is crucial for learning,
performance and mood.
So why haven't Lansing area schools paid attention to the
success of the Minneapolis experiment to help high school
students get the sleep they need? Parents and teachers know that
teenagers usually like to stay up late, and then hate getting up
in the morning, while young children are often up bright and
early. Recent research has shown that a difference in the
natural sleep cycles of adolescents underlie this behavior.
School starting times make no sense from the point of view of
sleep cycles of children of different ages - the little ones
begin school later in the morning, while the high school
students have to drag themselves out of bed first. Many teens
report their first-hour class is wasted on them because they
can't seem to wake up.
In 1997, the Minneapolis School District began an experiment to
see whether starting high school later might help this problem.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the change of high
school start times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. has been a
resounding success. Not only have Minneapolis high school
students responded to the change by getting an average of one
hour more sleep per night, attendance rates have improved.
Furthermore, students are reported to be better behaved, school
performance has improved, and there is less depression,
according to a follow-up study by Kyla Wahlstrom of the
University of Minnesota.
The Minneapolis suburb of Edina made a similar change. Despite
some initial concerns about the effect later school start times
might have on busing and athletics, 92 percent of Edina high
school parents surveyed after one year indicated that they
preferred the later start times.
As a psychologist who deals with family problems, I can attest
that many families would be extremely happy if they did not have
to begin each morning with a fight to get their adolescent out
of bed in order to get to school on time.
So, how about it, mid-Michigan schools? What have we got to
Have elementary school start first - at a reasonable hour so the
little ones don't have to wait for the bus in the dark. Begin
middle school next, then pick up the high-schoolers last.
Improved school attendance, learning, performance, attitude and
mood all sound like positive steps in the direction of achieving
"world class city" status.
As NSF executive director Richard L. Gelula has said, "The onus
now should be on those who resist setting high school start
times at a reasonable hour to explain why they don't think
getting more sleep is good for growing teens."
"Adolescent Sleep Needs and Patterns" and other sleep-related
information can be found at
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