My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alarm sounds on youth sleep needs

Note: This was published a few weeks ago but at a hectic time (e.g., SC race, overrides), so I didn't post it then. But a number of blog readers brought this to my attention -- and here it is!

Hampshire Gazette
Monday, March 8, 2010

NORTHAMPTON - If you knew there was one thing you could do that would help your children be happier, healthier, safer and do better in school, would you do it? What if it were a challenge to arrange?

This tension is at the crux of the debate about school start times in Northampton.

A wealth of scientific information about sleep clearly demonstrates how important sleep is to children's brain development. In their 2009 book "Nurtureshock," Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman summarize studies that show the major impact that losing even one hour of sleep can have on children's academic performance, memory, mood, safety and health. These findings have led many school systems to move back their high school start times to increase teenagers' sleep and improve their health and safety.

Now, less than 5 percent of American adolescents get eight hours of sleep on weeknights and 50 percent get less than seven hours sleep.

"In general, children - from elementary school through high school - get an hour less sleep each night than they did thirty years ago," write Bronson and Merryman.

Why is this a problem? Because we now understand that kids' brains are doing critical work during sleep. Loss of sleep has "an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn't on adults."

Recent MRI brain studies show that sleep loss seriously affects a child's ability to consolidate and store learning from the previous day. In addition, loss of sleep disrupts the prefrontal cortex, the site of executive functioning - which controls impulse control, planning and abstract reasoning skills. Thus, loss of sleep translates into lower academic performance, standardized test scores and IQ scores.

A study of fourth- and sixth-graders in Israel showed that one hour's sleep difference created a two-year gap in achievement scores. Many studies show correlation between sleep and grades. One found that students who got A's averaged 15 minutes more sleep than students who received B's, who averaged 15 minutes more sleep than students who averaged C's (and so on).

Researchers have also found a strong link between sleep loss and negative mood. One such study found that as sleep decreased each year of high school so did mood, and students getting fewer than eight hours of sleep had double the risk of a clinical level of depression. Quality of life and psychological health can improve with increased sleep.

A crucial point for many school systems, and ultimately for the Centers for Disease Control, is the issue of safety. We now know that in adolescence melatonin, the brain's natural sleep chemical, is released later in the evening and into the morning hours - unlike in children and adult brains. This difference leads to sleepiness in the morning, which correlates with driving accidents.

Districts that have changed start times have reported significant drops in teenage car accidents Lexington, Ky., reported a 25 percent drop. This finding ultimately led the CDC to recommend moving high school start times later because it can save lives.

Finally, new research points to the important role sleep plays in regulating hunger and eating behaviors. Brain research conducted by Dr. Eve Van Cauter demonstrates a complex neuroendocrine cascade that links obesity with sleep loss. Studies around the globe have found with remarkable consistency that children who got fewer than eight hours sleep have a 300 percent higher risk for obesity than those who got 10 hours sleep per night. A U.S. study showed that obesity rates increased 80 percent for every hour of sleep lost.

With this level of scientific backing, clearly the best decision for our children's health and education is to move the start time of the high school back to 8:30 or later (from its current time of 7:30). Unfortunately, in the current economic climate of recurring budget crises, issues of innovation and science-based change can get sidelined. We need to work together to solve the logistical problems in a creative and thrifty way.

A group of parents and citizens met Feb. 3 to discuss this issue. We brainstormed options that in combination might solve the core obstacle: transportation. If the start time were later, perhaps we could make use of the city bus system, and also use smaller buses that could be run for less money. Or it may be more cost effective to use a model in which smaller "feeder" buses bring students to central locations for larger buses.

The School Committee is planning to sponsor an open forum March 15 on transportation issues. Come and offer your ideas to make sure transportation problems don't stand in the way of a change that is a win-win choice.

We appreciate how beleaguered the School Committee and administrators have been because of repeated budget crises. We are interested in working together for the education and well-being of our students. The bottom line is, when we have overwhelming data that says this is best for all children, we can't respond, "But it's too difficult."

We have to respond, "OK, how can we do this soon?"

Karen W. Saakvitne is a clinical psychologist in Northampton and a parent of two middle school students. Carin Clevidence is a writer and a parent of a third- and fifth-grader. Renee Wetstein is an attorney and a mother of three sons in sixth, eighth and tenth grade.

28 comments:

Experienced parent said...

Given the large amount of research showing that adolescents benefit from later school start times, I can only assume that our school system will do nothing -- just as I assume that it will hire the least qualified adminstrators without proven track records, fail to look to other schools' best practices, take no concrete, effective steps to close the achievement gap and so on. This is a school system resistent to introspection and change. The people who carry our children forward, urging them on, and offering them the best they have to give are the many, excellent, hard-working teachers of Amherst. I am grateful for them.

Anonymous said...

I believe Northampton is looking into this issue. I am very interested to hear what they determine.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that administrators will rally teachers to squelch any discussion of this. While the old SC would kowtow I'd bet the current RSC would act to change the status quo.

I'm in. Change!

Anonymous said...

for yrs I've heard that the middle and high schools in amherst cannot switch their start times with the elementary schools because of 1) afterschool activities 2) child care responsibilities for younger siblings. Neither of which accounts for the pre-teens or teenagers themselves. Will we ever have a policy in Amherst that is really focused on the student?

Anonymous said...

Not helpful, Experienced Parent!

Anonymous said...

FYI- even though it would be better for teens- they themselves often don't want the change. Later end time interferes with sports, after school jobs and other activities. The only district in this area that has a later start time for HS is HOlyoke and they only went to the later start as a way to combat tardiness and truancy. So please save your snide comments- they aren't helpful.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so, we shouldn't do something that is admittedly better for the teens because they themselves don't want it?

I really don't think we want to pursue that strategy in dealing with our teenagers...

What else don't they want?

Ed said...

I never did understand why on earth we started school so very early in the morning. 8:30 is the hour that the work world starts (ok, union jobs start at 7 for first shift and that may be the motivation) but the vast majority of jobs go from 8:30 t 5:00. And but for sports and the rest (which ARE less significant than everything else), there is no good reason to have school ending so soon (with all the trouble that young people can get into).

One other thing - and Catherine you really ought to get this figure because it is part of the SPED picture -- what percentage of those kids are on some sort of ADHD med? 5%? 10%? more???

Those kids are even more vulnerable to this sort of thing than everyone else (because of the meds) and that starts becoming an ADA issue.

I am an unapologetic conservative but I really do have problems with not taking this issue seriously. Besides, if we start school later, we won't have schoolbuses out before dawn in March...

Anonymous said...

Ed, information about who takes meds isn't available. It's PRIVATE.
Half the time (maybe more) even a kid's teachers don't know.

TomG said...

I don't think the issue is when school starts, I think the issue is how much sleep did the student get the night before and every night. which in turn is dependent on their work load, their time management skills, and when they go to bed.

Parents are the adults in charge at home. I think it is up to them to see that Jack and Jill are sleeping 8 hours a night and not staying up to play video games or whatever.

TomG said...

A lot of kids tell me when they are on meds and they tell me when they have their meds "right".

The distraction, and the chatter students engage in is rampant. You can't get a class to sit quietly and listen without talking.

What's interesting to know is that sleep is part of the reason even for kids not on meds.

Anonymous said...

Tom G:

I don't think you get the point of the article. Teenagers internal clocks are set differently than the rest of us. They CANNOT fall asleep early very easily because their internal clocks are set to a later sleep time and later awake time. Parents can tell their kids until they are blue in the face to go to bed at 10pm...and maybe the teen even complies...that does not mean that they are falling asleep at 10pm.

The kids are not going to sleep early because they are rebellious...they can't fall asleep easily or get up when they need to easily because of the biology of their bodies!!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, so here is a question, when people read about conclusions found in study after study that teens do better, in all sorts of ways, by waking up and starting school later (and any parent of a teen will find this no surprise) -- does it any way affect how people think about anything?

For TomG apparently no. Since he writes:

"I don't think the issue is when school starts, I think the issue is how much sleep did the student get the night before and every night. which in turn is dependent on their work load, their time management skills, and when they go to bed. "

Okay, so he thinks he's right despite all the studies. Maybe no study will convince him. (And maybe he's never argued at 11 pm with a wired teen, who does look really awake, over getting to bed because they have to get up at 6:30 am.)

Which brings up my next question, who is an expert? In the law, an expert is a person who has spent years working in one area, written books and articles, conducted studies or done extensive research, spoken at conferences, etc. I think that's pretty true for most fields.

And then in Amherst, an expert is.....

Janet McGowan

TomG said...

Janet, why do you conclude that the benefit comes from sleeping late as opposed to sleeping sufficiently, say 8-9 hours, regularly?

anon - They CANNOT fall asleep early very easily because their internal clocks are set to a later sleep time and later awake time.

You are wrong. People develop sleep habits that drive their circadian rhythms. The teenagers you know are in the habit of going to sleep late and therefore MUST sleep in to get their 8-9 hours.

Anonymous said...

I think if you start looking at a later starting time for the high school, you have to weigh the cost of having the kids stay later. This will impact kids who work after school, who play competitive sports after school, and kids who get extra tutoring/help after school. For kids who do after school activities, they'll get home later and start their homework later - it may just be pushing everything they do to an even later hour. If you're going to mess with the start time of the high school, why not also look into having year round school? We're not an agricultural society anymore. There is no reason to have kids home in the summer to help on the farm. It's a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

I agree with TomG. It's just habit.

Anonymous said...

Tom G said: "You are wrong. People develop sleep habits that drive their circadian rhythms. The teenagers you know are in the habit of going to sleep late and therefore MUST sleep in to get their 8-9 hours."

No, Tom, you are wrong. I have been reading these studies for years now that VERY clearly indicate that teens biological clocks are set differently than the rest of us. Everyone talks so loudly about data and research informing decision making..and then we come to you, who wants to TOTALLY ignore the reams of data on this subject. I suppose you have some data to back up your OPINION????

Anonymous said...

I'm with Janet McG. Want to come over to my house and force my high schooler to fall asleep when he's wide awake at 11:30? Good luck!

This night owl syndrome does seem -- and research says it is -- biological for some teens.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Just a quick note here -- let's remember to keep the conversation respectful! People may disagree about whether changing the start times would be better or worse, and that is OK! This is about having a dialogue!

Also, this seems like a REALLY non-controversial topic, so I think it would be great if people consider using their names, as Janet McGowan has done.

I have no idea whether this is a good idea or a bad idea - but the research seems clearly to point to some advantages, and thus I think this is a discussion that should be on the table.

TomG said...

The article above references the effects of too little sleep and the effects of adequate sleep based on scientific studies.

It does not make any claims about teanagers circadian rhythms (when they get hungry for meals, when the get sleepy) being different that adults or children.

If anyone has access to studies that that conclude teanagers' circadian rhythms operate differently than children or adults, please cite them.

Anonymous said...

TomG,
The article above says this:
"We now know that in adolescence melatonin, the brain's natural sleep chemical, is released later in the evening and into the morning hours - unlike in children and adult brains. This difference leads to sleepiness in the morning, which correlates with driving accidents."

Is that what you're looking for?

Anonymous said...

Tom G: Read this study:

http://www.sleepforscience.org/stuff/contentmgr/files/5598e427689cd7382cdb641dbb672c2a/pdf/carskadonschltrans1998.pdf

Also, this is interesting:

http://www.healthcentral.com/sleep-disorders/better-sleep-270924-5.html

Anonymous said...

Let's try this again. For some reason the whole website address did not post the last time I tried to give this to you, Tom G.


http://www.sleepforscience.org/stuff/contentmgr/files/5598e427689cd7382cdb641dbb672c2a/pdf/carskadonschltrans1998.pdf

It is an 11 page very scholarly examination of teens and sleep.

Joshua G. said...

Here is some more information that could inform the conversation.
The National Sleep Foundation has published the science studies people are asking about. They have a whole section of their site about school start times, here:
http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/school-start-time-and-sleep
Minneapolis made this change a decade ago (High school start 8:40, dismiss 3:20) and studied the positive outcomes in terms of academics and mental health. Here and scroll down to "School start time study":
http://www.cehd.umn.edu/CAREI/Reports/summary.html
Holyoke moved high school start times later four years ago.
Northampton has not acted on a recommendation a couple of years ago to do this, but is considering it. (Transportation is complicated.)
Amherst teachers have not taken any position on this issue, but should be involved in any discussion of it because it would require approval in contract negotiations coming up this Fall.
For you aural learners, this radio interview with a NY superintendent deciding whether to change start times is good:
http://mediasearch.wnyc.org/m/29792793/the-high-school-sleep-tradeoff-the-brian-lehrer-show-friday-12-march-2010.htm
Typical arguments in favor, in these and other cases, are the measurable improvements in learning, higher test scores etc., lower truancy and dropout rate, as well as less depression.
Typical arguments against are complications with sports schedules (usually manageable), need to use teens to babysit younger kids while parents work, and cutting into work hours for teens with jobs.
Finally, we have two bus tiers (MS/HS then elementary runs) so if you make HS later you have to either make elementary earlier (those kids' biology does wake them up earlier) or shift the whole day later for everyone.
Personally I'm in favor of this change if it can be done without major cost or disruption. Having academics driven by sports seems like tail-wagging-dog.
Maybe we could have a meeting or forum of parents, teachers, administrators to dig into the issues a bit? In a civil way!
-- Joshua Goldstein, parent

Anonymous said...

Joshua G. said...

Maybe we could have a meeting or forum of parents, teachers, administrators to dig into the issues a bit? In a civil way!


Not another forum! Didn't we just give you $1.4 million? Without a budget for the next five years?

It seems to me that, with the final vote of Town Meeting on the final amount set for May 3, the SC would be working full-time to come up with a budget.

Or did they lie to us? And it was not a one-time amount? Unless there is evidence to the contrary, maybe we should pull the plug.

Please, God, not another forum.

Joshua G. said...

I was thinking of a meeting for people interested in this idea, pro or con, to discuss it informally and see if there's any consensus on a way forward or on dropping it. The attendance of people such as "anonymous" who just posted would not be required. By the way maybe if people got enough sleep it would improve civility on this blog. :-)
-Joshua

Ed said...

Ed, information about who takes meds isn't available. It's PRIVATE.
Half the time (maybe more) even a kid's teachers don't know.


Regarding specific individuals - absolutely. However as long as there are enough people in the population sample to ensure that specific individuals can not be indentified, the statistics are quite public. We know the statistics on AIDS in the county, we know the stats on the rest of the STDs, we know the statistics on teen pregnancy and probably the number of pregnancies in the district each year.

No, we don't know which girls are pregnant - but we do know the percentage who are.

And so too here. We should have some idea - if based on nothing more than national statistics of the 9-12 age cadre - we should have some idea as to the percentage.

No, not to specific students. But the percentage is something that the district ought to both know about and be able to mention.

go for it said...

Joshua G. This is a great idea, that I think was lost when other posts were put on this blog. Organize and publicize it and I think many parents will come.