For the health of our teens, ask our schools to talk about early school start times.

Should our schools consider the clinical data behind delaying middle and high schools to after 8:30 am? A group of professionals in the area says yes.

Auto accidents, poorer grades, obesity, insulin resistance, sports injuries, immune functioning, risk-taking, substance abuse - all of these are influenced by whether our teens obtain enough sleep every night.  Research from the 90's discovered a shift in circadian rhythm that occurs during puberty.   Adolescents don't release melatonin until approximately 90 minutes later than the rest of us.  This 'phase delay' has been measured (via saliva samples) in adolescents around the world - so it's a phenomenon of puberty, not American culture or schedules.  Unfortunately current American school schedules conflict with this shift.  Teens find it bio-chemically difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep before 11pm - regardless of what time the morning alarm is set.  Adolescents require 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep, and considering that most Northeast Ohio teens get up around 6am on school days the math isn't good.  Sleep deprivation is known to contribute to a myriad of physical and cognitive problems - sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious.  The latest research is on the strong links between sleep deprivation and sports injuries and obesity.

The Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the National Sleep Foundation, Brown University, and others endorse the delay of school start times for adolescents.  In 1993 the Minnesota Medical Association issued a resolution encouraging the elimination of early school start times.  Within several years schools in Minneapolis and Edina changed start times.  Researchers were there to gather pre-and post-data and the results were amazing.  Despite the expectations that teens would stay up later the night before, the teens went to bed at the same time but slept later in the morning - obtaining, on average, five hours more sleep per week to the tune of improved grades, improved SAT scores, and improved behavior.  In 1998 the five high schools in Fayette County, Kentucky changed from 7:30 am to 8:30 am and in the two years afterwards teen auto accidents in the county decreased by 24.3% when compared to the rest of the state.  Other schools around the nation have responded and have experienced similar benefits - most obvious being improvements in grades and behavior.

The Hamilton Project (Brookings Institute) issued a report last year that provides a 'conservative' benefit to cost ratio estimate of 9 to 1 in delaying start times for teens by one hour.  Economists who have explored this topic cite direct and indirect savings based on increased enrollment, decreased nurse and counselor visits, improved education which translates to increased future earnings, decreased health problems, and decreased auto accidents/sports injuries.

In Northeast Ohio there is a large group of professionals and parents asking our schools to consider the clinical data and national recommendations.  The first step is merely for each school to form a committee to explore the topic - that's all - just form a committee.  Every school superintendent in Portage County, for example, was provided with a summary of the clinical data and copies of letters from agencies including the Mental Health & Recovery Board, Townhall II, Gary Robinson & Associates, our Portage County Commissioners, and others.

Most schools find that once they examine the research the answer is obvious, however our schools often need a little encouragement from the community.  To that end a petition was recently formed asking our schools to take that harmless step of forming 'school start time committees'.  While this petition was written for Portage County, support from around NE Ohio have been already been voiced, and we intend to share the petition with all school administrators in the region.

We encourage you, our neighbors, to voice support for our youth and sign the petition: http://signon.org/sign/start-portage-county.fb23?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=6059954


- Stacy Simera, MSSA, LISW-S, SAP


References and for further information:

CAREI: Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, University of Minnesota, School Start Time Study (198-2001), available at www.education.umn.edu/CAREI/Reports

Danner, F, Phillips, B.  Adolescent sleep, school start times, and teen motor vehicle crashes.  Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.  2008: 4:533-5

Hamilton Project: Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments.  Available at: http://www.hamiltonproject.org/files/downloads_and_links/092011_organize_jacob_rockoff_paper.pdf

The National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org

Start School Later, national non-profit advocacy group, www.startschoollater.net

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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