For Our Teens' Health, Ask Our Schools to Talk About Early Start Times.

Should Portage County delay middle and high school start times to after 8:30 am? A group of professionals in the county 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 Portage County 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 Portage County 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 the county 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'. 

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

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Stacy Simera November 20, 2012 at 10:44 PM
"Sleep deprivation is of particular concern among adolescents residing and working on farms." (Chapman, 2006) Agricultural work is considered more hazardous than non-agricultural occupations, and experts say the risk is increased among young workers. I graduated from Rootstown in 1987, and I had classmates that got up an hour or two before the rest of us to do their farm chores. When I've talked to city folk in Akron and Dayton and Columbus on this topic they are surprised that I include research on farming, but I've also talked to country folk like me in Ashtabula, Canton and Athens and this is an important topic - in fact slide number 97 in my PowerPoint includes the aforementioned quote from Chapman. For our kids still working farms, that's all the more reason our schools should start later. Here's a few good references: Chapman, LJ. Summary of NIOSH-Funded Research in Agriculture at University of Wisconsin. 2006. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nas/agforfish/pdfs/app2-11.pdf  Chapman LJ, Taveira AD, Newenhouse AC, Meyer RH, Josefsson KG. Causal factors in production agriculture injuries: working children and youth versus adults. In S. Kumar (Ed.) Advances in Occupational Ergonomics and Safety. Washington DC:IOS Press 1998:73-76 Meyers, J, Miles, J, Faucett, J, Janowitz, I, Tejeda, D, Weber, E, Smith, R, Garcia, L. (2002) Priority risk factors for back injury in agricultural field work: Vineyard ergonomics. Journal of Agromedicine, (1), 37-52
Stacy Simera November 22, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Teresa, you raise good questions. It does sound odd that one thing - sleep - can impact so many aspects of our physical and mental health - until we realize that we spend 1/3 of our life in this vital and very active state. During the biggest growth period of our species, the first year of infancy, we spend 1/2 of our time in sleep. We release growth hormones and engage in tissue repair during stage 3 sleep, and facilitate neurological development and reorganizing during stage 4 (REM) sleep. Not getting enough stage 3 sleep is bad for our body, and not getting enough REM sleep is bad for our brain.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! November 22, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Someone has to do that job. If no one does, no one eats. Not you, not me. No one.
Luke November 28, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Just out of curiosity Stacy, are you originally from around here? Or are you yet another transplant who wants to come in and tell us dumb country hicks how to live our lives and raise our children?
Gerald Elekes November 28, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Got that right. 4:30 AM milking, breakfast, then catching the 7:30 AM bus to Brimfield Elem. Returned at 3:30 PM for chores. Garden needed watered, tended, harvested. Orchard maintained. Leaves raked. Grapes or raspberries picked. Trash burned. Driveway snow-shoveled. Saturdays spent pulling weeds, mowing, trimming hedges, painting, mending fences, cleaning the "Pit"-- if you get my drift. Cows refused to do it. Sundays saw early Church. More chores before play—baseball, football, Army. Any time left, I was volunteered to help bale hay, slop pigs, spread “Pit-Spit” on plowed fields, or load full milk cans on the truck. We’d make the drive to the milk house located somewhere down Rt. 224. Reload sterilized empties back on the truck. One ice cream cone included. Often, it was the Grist Mill loading burlap bags full of oats or ground corn. Often find me forking fresh hay into cleaned stalls. My personal favorite-- killing rats in the chicken coop with a Ryder B.B. gun, no chickens included. Later, Ground Hogs in corn fileds with a 30-ought. By age twelve, had a SS#, working summers at Siefeirt’s Farm & Market in Kent picking cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, and melons beside Kent State college students-- before delivering the Record Courier-- excluding Sundays. No bike allowed. Mom was afraid I’d get killed-- walked the route. In bed by 8:00 PM, up at 4:00 AM. Yawn...It's all making me tired. I’m much more lazy now. Still an interesting article however.


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