Pediatrics society sees danger in early start time

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Ashley Hoang, Staff Writer

They say the early bird gets the worm — but for high school students, the simple truth is that the bird is probably just sleep deprived.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has joined the chorus of critics who say early start times are harming today’s youth.

In a new policy statement published by the group, it suggests schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  Any earlier could lead to car accidents, obesity and depression for the groggy students.

“On the average, I’d have three hours of sleep,” junior Jennifer Gonzalez says. “With five AP classes and teachers giving tests all on the same day, a lack of sleep is not something new for me.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 41.1 percent of suburban schools begin between 7:00-7:59 a.m.

The National Sleep Founding says teenagers’ melatonin secretions —  hormones that send signals to other organs that help regulate the circadian rhythms of the body — do not end until after 7:00 a.m, which leads to many dreary-eyed students struggling stay awake during school.

The average amount of sleep for an average teenager, according to National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, is 8.5-9.25 hours. Despite this, many teenagers find themselves sleeping fewer than seven.

Students taking AP courses may even sleep five or fewer hours.

“My sleeping schedule really depends on how much homework I have,” junior Daniel Barajas said. “Sometimes I would stay up until four in the morning to finish my homework.” Barajas is juggling six AP classes.

Students’ judgment can be impaired because of their lack of sleep, and sleepy drivers can get into accidents.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Societies in San Antonio, younger drivers are more likely to have crashes when they have inadequate sleep. A study from 2007-2008 found “significantly” higher teen crash rates in Virginia Beach, Va., than in a similar district in nearby Chesapeake where classes started 75 to 80 minutes later.

A lack of sleep not only results in potential accidents on the streets, but also affects a teen’s emotional well being.

“[Lack of sleep] will definitely affect your ability to focus and concentrate,” Bear Creek High School’s psychologist Jennifer Shirron says. “Mentally, it could wear you down emotionally if you haven’t had a lot of sleep over a long period of time. Physically, it could affect your immune system and your ability to cope in stressful situations.”

Schools are also looking into the transportation costs if they were to begin earlier due to the change in schedule for buses.

To adjust the strained sleeping schedules of their students as well as decrease the cost of public transportation for them, middle schools in the Long Beach district are beginning their school hours promptly at 9:00 a.m.  The proposed plan, district officers believe, would save around $1,059,484 in transportation costs by adjusting the bus schedule.

With more schools pushing their start times later, students may not only see an improvement in their health, but their grades.

According to a 2008 research in Wake County, North Carolina, changing the school’s start time from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increased standardized test scores by at least two percentile points in math and one percentile point in reading.

Despite all the positive benefits from school starting later, only 15 percent of high schools start at 8:30 or later, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m. according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Many school boards are concerned with the change of schedules for both the teachers and parents.  Students with extra-curricular or after school activities will also ultimately arrive home later.

The Lodi Unified School District, however, has yet to adopt this recommended change. Several attempts were made to contact the board members on this issue, but none responded.

Schools are under no obligation to push their start times forward, but the American Association of Pediatrics continues to emphasize the evidence that “strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.”