Ok, so our teen’s hibernation until 1 p.m. each Saturday may be overkill, but studies show that the average teenager’s internal clock is naturally set to sleep between 11 pm and 8 am. This data has prompted Amy Wolfson, a psychologist at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, Kyla Wahlstrom, an education researcher at the University of Minnesota and a host of others to conduct years of research around this very important topic. Their findings suggest that later school openings, whether by design or unforeseen delay may provide a host of benefits for the students lucky enough to “play along” with Mother Nature.
Some key benefits include:
- Fewer teen car crashes
- Fewer moody and depressed teens
- Fewer tardy arrivals and dropouts
- Higher attendance
- Higher efficiency (more homework completed during school study hours)
- Fewer visits to the school nurse
- Fewer behavioral issues
Think about what time most classes actually begin. Many schools start sometime between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, an hour when teens should only just be rising. Then you factor in time to get ready, eat their ever-important breakfast, commute and all of a sudden our teens are sleep deprived by a good two or more hours.
Studies have been conducted throughout the country echoing these findings for years.
Based on the data and some preliminary evidence, experts hypothesize that teens who follow natural sleep patterns will also receive higher grades. This strong case has spurred a multi-year $300,000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With results expected this year, it may soon be time to start working through questions such as:
- Why hold an early class if returns diminish so severely?
- Would moving less cerebral subjects such as physical education to the beginning of the day provide teens an opportunity to “wake up” before the key subjects are studied?
- Is it possible to move school back a couple of hours if huge gains for the school system are achievable?
Of course on the negative side, we have issues like the logistics of commute, schedule or daily routine changes in addition to interference with sports practices or other extracurricular activities. These however seem small and short term when compared to the study results of higher performance, less car accidents, fewer dropouts and less depressed teens. Can you imagine implementing a major change to help our teens perform better that they actually love? This is starting to sound like a commercial for some high fiber snack food!
It’s hard to say if school boards are unwilling to start later due to the negatives, the dreaded “way we have always done it” philosophy, or a combination of the two, but one thing is certain… we all would have loved a little extra sleep in high school.