Fatigue a way of life for many high schoolers

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Something for schools to consider as we strive to make our Learning Systems the Best they can be for students.


The American Academy of Pediatrics issues proposal to push back school start times to 8:30 a.m.


CHICAgO — On a typical school night, Nicole Bankowski averages about five hours of sleep. She is taking four AP classes, along with serving as editor of the school newspaper, treasurer of the student council and member of the show choir.

“It’s probably not the healthiest way to live, but it’s the only way to get everything done,” said the Buffalo grove High School senior, who typically doesn’t start her homework until 10:30 p.m.

With the school year just underway, students like Bankowski are already sleep-deprived. Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued what it hopes will be a wake-up call to the nation’s educators: Push back school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.

“Delaying school start times is one of the most effective interventions to reduce the negative consequences of chronic sleep loss,” said Judith Owens, lead author of the academy’s policy statement and director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, calling the situation “a national public health crisis.”

The later start is urged for middle and high schools so kids can get the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of shut-eye they need to grow and learn, the academy said. But only about 15 percent of u.S. high schools have an opening bell that rings at 8:30 a.m. or later, according to federal data.

In the Chicago metropolitan area, calls to about two dozen high schools from Highland Park to Park Forest find that 8 a.m. is overwhelmingly the most popular school start time. A few start as early as 7 a.m. Also, many student athletes have pre-dawn practices, requiring them to be in the pool or weight room at 6 a.m., making fatigue a way of life. researchers said this is not an issue that can be addressed by merely deleting an activity or two. Because of changes in internal circadian clocks that coincide with the onset of puberty, kids find it difficult to hit the hay as early as when they were younger, Owens said.

“So the 10-year-old who went to bed at 9 p.m. becomes the 13-year-old who can’t get to sleep until 11,” Owens said. This biological shift occurs at precisely the time that the brain and body are developing at a rapid clip, and school commitments become more intense, making it “the perfect storm,” she said.

Just a little more sleep time also can reduce car accidents among teen drivers, she added. “This can be fixed with a relatively simple and straightforward intervention.”

But it’s not as easy as it sounds, said administrators, citing an array of logistical problems, from bus schedules to parents’ commutes.

David Schuler, superintendent of District 214 in the northwest suburbs, including Buffalo grove High, said that later starts mean later dismissals. That, in turn, wreaks havoc with the very same extracurricular activities that contribute to a student’s success, he said. Softball, soccer, golf and frosh/soph football are just a few of the sports that would be affected by an altered timetable.

“I can’t change when the sun sets,” he said. “even band practice would be affected.”

Five of the six district high schools start between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. Ironically, elk grove High — the only school that starts at 8 — has fielded requests from parents to start earlier to accommodate after-school sports.

The matter is hardly new, with some studies going back a decade. But getting a push from the nation’s largest pediatrician group has reignited the debate.


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