While many high schools start at 8:00 am, some start as early as 7:00 am – or even earlier. Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., is a human behavior, parenting, and education expert who supports the late start movement, urging high schools to push back start times by at least 30 minutes. With this in mind it reveals that across the country, teenagers are heading to school long before their biological clocks are ready.
“If we want to give our high school students the best advantage for optimal learning and productivity, we need to address the biological differences in teenage sleep cycles,” Dr. Gross says. “Allowing teenagers to get the sleep they need and start school just 30 minutes later can make all the difference.”
While adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep, teens – whose bodies are still growing – need between 8.5 to 9.5 hours each night. According to Dr. Gross, their circadian rhythm , which regulates the sleep hormone melatonin, directs them to a later bedtime and awakening.
When teens get enough sleep, the benefits are bountiful:
- Sleep restores the brain and metabolism, while helping teens’ memory, learning, and emotional balance.
- Sleep has been known to help stave off depression, erratic behavior, truancy, absenteeism, impaired cognitive function, obesity, and even car accidents.
- Sleep helps students have better focus, impulse control, homework results, improved attendance, concentration, sociability, and alertness during the day.
When teens do not get enough sleep, the problems can be very serious and affect almost every aspect of their lives.
- Teens lose the ability to focus and stay on task.
- Teens experience fatigue and mental lapses.
- Teens may experience symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity and attention deficit.
According to Dr. Gross, when teenagers are stressed through the loss of sleep, the amygdala enlarges , making them more emotional in decision-making, while the hippocampus narrows where learning and memory live. As a result, not sleeping long enough can affect not only decision-making ability, but also creativity.
“We know late school starts work,” Dr. Gross says. “When researchers studied the impact of a 25-minute delay in school start time on teens, students experienced significant reduction in daytime sleepiness, as well as improvements to mood and focus, and student caffeine intake dropped.”
In just the last two years, high schools in California, Oklahoma, Georgia, and New York have adopted later start times. They join schools in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota who have already implemented later start times. The Seattle school board currently is researching the issue, with advocates hopeful that a later start time will go into place by the 2016-2017 school year, if not sooner.
For more insight from Dr. Gail Gross, please visit her website at www.drgailgross.com .