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High Schools Letting Students Sleep In to Improve Grades and Health

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By Kathryn Baron

You snooze, you lose, may be the wrong mantra for high school students. With the new school year upon us, more districts are responding to a growing body of research by giving teens more time to sleep at home so they won't sleep in class.

The first day of school this week in Colorado Springs' Harrison School District Two will begin 20 minutes later than in past years, anywhere from 7:45 a.m to 9 a.m. depending on the school.  A notice on the school district website said the change resulted from a two-year study of the research and interviews with teachers, parents, and students found "that achievement and well-being of students is positively impacted by a later start to the academic day."

Alabama's Phenix City Public Schools and Decatur City Schools have also become part of this trend (although Decatur officials say it's to cut down on transportation costs). School will start at 9 a.m. for Phenix students in grade 8 to 12, an hour and 15 minutes later than before, according to WTVM news.

The nation's fourth largest district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, is considering a similar schedule change. 

"There's evidence that by imposing our schedules upon adolescents we may actually be endangering them to some extent," Alberto Ramos, the co-director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Miami Medical School recently told the Miami Herald.

Research shows that teens need 8½ to 9¼ hours of sleep a night, but usually get fewer than 7 hours. Chronic sleep deprivation has serious consequences for high school students. It's not just a matter of academic harm. They're also more prone to depression, violence, health problems, drinking and smoking, and getting into car accidents.

On the flip side, a recent study from the University of Minnesota that Education Week wrote about found that pushing back high school start times improved academic performance, attendance and health, and reduced car crashes near schools.

Meanwhile, some parents are pushing back against a later start time, amid concern that ending the school day later means students' after-school activities go on too late and their children have to stay up even later to finish their homework.

It may seem like an easier option would be getting teens to go bed earlier, but try telling that to their circadian rhythms. Adolescent body clocks don't send out the tired message until about 11 p.m. or later. 

Many bloodshot eyes are looking toward Maryland for more answers. Lawmakers there approved a bill in April requiring the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to study the sleep needs of teens and survey districts that have already implemented later start times. The report and recommendations are due out by the end of this year.

A New Face on the Blog

By the way, the Time and Learning blog is traveling west. I'm Kathryn Baron, the new blogger, and I'll be posting from the San Francisco Bay Area, but welcome ideas from all over. I've been writing about education for many years and in many forms, from public radio to newspapers and from magazines to online journalism. Coming from a family of public school teachers, I suspect that a passion for education is in my DNA.  I'd love to hear your feedback, suggestions, and news tips. Feel free to post a comment on the blog. You can also follow me on Twitter @TchersPet.

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