Monday, May 4, 2015

Hitting the Snooze Button on Sleepy Teens

Ask any parent who undertakes the daily battle of rousing a “sound asleep” teenager from bed at 6AM to catch a school bus, or get on the road to school, and I’ll show you an exhausted parent. In response to starting the school day at the crack of dawn and needing a jolt into “full academic mode,” younger and younger students are turning to caffeine and other forms of energy boosts to jar their adolescent brains awake. Just stop by any Starbucks in the morning.

The Dobbs Ferry Board of Education is currently considering the serious implications of adolescent sleep deprivation on student health and learning. Currently, Dobbs Ferry Middle School and High School have the earliest start times in Westchester County, as well as one of the longest school days. Although research is clear that changing circadian rhythms drive the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents (sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty), school start times remain at the mercy of adult convenience, transportation, athletics and politics rather than the educational and health needs of kids. 

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report calling for later school start times for adolescents, stating that “a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.” The report also states that “studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems…and a decline in academic performance.”

But is sleep deprivation really an epidemic and is it a problem for schools to own? What responsibility do teens have in taking charge of their own health and how do parents play a role?

Concerns have been raised that teens will simply stay up even later if they think that they have a later start time for school. In the January 2015 edition of School Administrator dedicated to the topic of “Flexing School Start Times,” these concerns have not come to bear in districts that have tackled the school start time challenge.

There is no doubt that helping teens understand and accept responsibility for their health and wellness is a goal. We allocate resources and professional services in our efforts to keep adolescents healthy, both physically and emotionally. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have emerged as a serious health issue for not only teens, but adults as well.

Today’s teenagers are busier than ever with extracurricular activities, homework, after-school jobs and the proliferation of technology and 24/7 use of social media. I’m yawning just thinking about the lack of sleep that our students get during the weekday. Maybe we can’t control all of these factors, but even an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning might make all the difference.