Start School Later in Ridgewood, NJ
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Many middle and high schools start too early in the morning to allow teens to get enough sleep - and that's taking a huge toll on health, safety, and learning.
Why is this a problem?
Sleep experts have determined a shift in sleep cycles (circadian rhythms) beginning in adolescence that makes it more difficult for most adolescents to fall asleep as early as younger children or older adults. Typical sleep cycles begin around 11 p.m. for teenagers and continue through 8 a.m.. This means that an early wake-up call not only allows 6 or 7 hours of sleep per school night at most, but also requires students to wake up in the middle of deep sleep. Even more disturbingly, starting school at these hours has now been linked not only to widespread sleep deprivation but also to a host of physical, psychological, and educational problems.
Meanwhile, no research has shown any benefit to requiring any child, of any age, to start instruction before 8 a.m. (teens would actually be better off after 8:30).
Nearly 50% of U.S. high schools currently start before 8 a.m.. Bus pick-ups start shortly after 5:30 a.m. in some districts, and teens must wake at 5 or 6 a.m. to get to school on time. Meanwhile, the school day ends in the early afternoon, sometimes even before 2 p.m. These schedules are out-of-sync with the sleep needs and patterns of middle and high school students, whose brains and bodies are still growing, and create a huge sleep debt every week of the school year.The health, safety, and equity benefits to starting middle and high school at times more in sync with the sleep needs and patterns of students are irrefutable.
Since the 1990s, sleep researchers and other health professionals have been telling us that these early school hours are harming children. It's not just the numbers of hours of sleep, but also the timing of sleep that is required for optimal health. Sleep deprivation's impacts include: weight gain and eating disorders and increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes; reduced immunity; depression; anxiety; substance abuse; mood swings; behavior problems; suicidal ideation; and potential impacts on brain development.
Kids are out walking to the bus or driving to school in the dark for most of the school year in many communities. With few adults around, they are at risk. Drowsy driving increases - for our newest drivers. Teens released in the early afternoon (sometimes well before 2 p.m.!) have hours of unsupervised time until the typical adult work day ends. Sleep deprivation increases risk-taking behavior, substance abuse, and impedes judgment and decision-making ability.
Kids who are tired can't learn at their best, and sleep deprivation impairs learning, memory, and attention as much as it impairs health and overall well-being. Academic improvements have been shown, and overall school climate has been measurably improved when high schools have restored later start times. Teachers have commented extensively about the improvement in the classroom environment when students are more alert, less moody, and less likely to sleep in class.
Hundreds of schools around the United States have restored later start times, and many more never moved to extremely early hours in the first place. The schools that have found affordable, feasible ways to do so have been both large and small. Some have seen cost-savings by redesigning transportation systems more efficiently and applied those cost-savings to any expense incurred by re-scheduling. These districts can say they looked at the science of what's best for the students and made the change accordingly. They are seeing large and small benefits to physical and mental heath, learning, attendance, graduation rates, car crashes, and overall student well-being.
If we start school later, students will just go to bed later. FALSE!
This common misconception seems reasonable enough. But contrary to expectation, it has not proven true in most studies of students who have had their schools shift to later start times. The landmark school start time study by Kyla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota showed that moving the opening time from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. resulted in teens getting a full hour of sleep more than students at high schools with earlier start times, with virtually no change in their bedtimes. Several subsequent studies have found the same thing: when schools move to later morning starts, students consistently got more sleep per school night because they went to bed at or near the same time each night and were able to rise later in the morning. Of course, a later start time is no guarantee that students will get more sleep. Students still need to follow healthy sleep practices, including choosing a reasonable bedtime, and evidence is accumulating that schools that change their start times in conjunction with a sleep education program are more likely to have better outcomes. *Ridgewood High School addresses the importance of sleep in their Yoga and Stress Management class and their Health 11 class. Being told to go to sleep earlier in these classes is great, but it is an impossible task for students to carryout while being thrown hours of homework/studying from teachers. Should getting the proper amount of sleep have to take a toll on my health, safety, and learning?*
However, it's important to remember that under current conditions, most students cannot get enough sleep no matter what their sleep habits might be. While changing start times is no guarantee that most students will get enough sleep, not changing them is a guarantee that most of them will not.
Enrichment Days (1 hour delayed opening to let students sleep in) which have taken place at RHS once a month have been successful, but letting students sleep in only once a month is not enough!
Go to http://www.startschoollater.net/ to learn more about how important it is to start school later!
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