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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Build Our School Schedules on Sleep
by Elizabeth Seagull, Lansing State Journal, February 22, 2004
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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 lose?

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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