Study: Later school start times beneficial

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 4, 2007

Starting school early has been traditional in the United States, but some school districts have begun experimenting with later start times, citing surveys such as a recent one conducted by the National Sleep Foundation that indicated students perform better when given additional time to prepare in the morning.

A survey conducted by the NSF found that 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired throughout the day and as many as 15 percent fell asleep during class. Data indicates that teenagers suffer the most from early morning start times. The majority of high schools in the U.S. begin at 7:30 a.m.

In January National Public Radio reported on the Minneapolis school district, which changed its start time from 7:20 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. According to Kyla Wahlstrom, an educational researcher with the University of Minnesota, students in the district have benefited from the change.

&#8220Students reported less depression when there was a later starting time,” Wahlstrom told the NPR. &#8220And teachers reported that students were more alert and ready for learning. Parents reported that their children were easier to live with because their emotions were more regulated.”

The number of students dropping out from school also decreased, according to Wahlstrom's data.

For Butler County schools - which has dealt with a high dropout rate in the past - that data is encouraging.

&#8220I have read some of the research relating to later start times and am excited about some of the reported results,” said Superintendent Mike Looney. &#8220In light of our commitment to make data driven decisions, I would expect the possibility of later start times to be considered carefully for upcoming school years. As we work on formulating related plans we will solicit input from parents, community members, and students so that our schools reflect the needs of the people we serve.”

Looney said the school administrators are still in the process of creating its 2007-08 school calendar.

Average start time for schools across Butler County is 7:50 a.m.

&#8220Teachers are in the process of providing feedback on two drafts under consideration,” said Looney. &#8220Both calendars represent a departure from what we have had in recent years. In addition, we are working to create uniform start and ending times and provide regular opportunities for teachers to have on-going professional development and teacher conference times.”

To help limit sleep deprivation in teenagers, sleep physician Helene Emsellen suggested these tips for parents as reported by NPR reporter Allison Aubrey:

n Remove clutter from your teens' bedrooms.

n Paint walls calm colors, such as soft blues and greens, tan, light yellow or peach.

n Schedule early dinners; big meals close to bedtime require digestive processes that can keep you awake.

n Have your teen shower at night and set clothes out in the evening, too, so he or she can get a few more minutes of sleep in the morning.

n Encourage more exercise if your teen is not participating in a sport.

n Limit caffeinated drinks.

n Help your teen set a regular sleep-wake routine that won't vary by more than two hours on the weekends.

Emsellen also suggested that parents should remove distractions from teenagers' rooms, such as televisions and computers.

However, Emsellen said soft music is a good way for teenagers to relax in preparation for sleep.