As any mom can tell you, when kids do not get enough sleep night after night, they tend to be cranky, listless, and moody. Besides making it hard for them to concentrate, poor sleep can cause children to act out, increasing the chance that they will be more impulsive and less well behaved. This actually leads many sleep experts to question whether or not the school day should start later.
Why Sleep Matters for School Age Children
Sleep is important not just for maintaining good behavior, but also for learning, memory, and recall. While children sleep, pathways form between nerve cells in their brains that help them to remember new information they have learned. Sleep deprivation will leave their brain exhausted and unable to perform its duties efficiently, and concentration and learning new things become increasingly difficult.
Sleep deprivation lowers overall performance in everything from academics to athletics among developing children. This is because the signals their bodies send may become delayed, decreasing their overall coordination skills while increasing their chances for accidents. It is recommended that all children receive between 7 to 12 hours of sleep each night, no matter the age of the child.
When a parent has problems getting their child up for school, the first solution they come up with is to make their bed time earlier. This rarely works, especially for teens. Why?
When a child hits puberty, something happens to their internal clock that makes it nearly impossible for them to sleep before 11pm. Studies have shown that the older adolescents become, the later melatonin (a hormone produced in the pineal gland that regulates sleep patterns) secretion occurs, making it difficult for them to sleep earlier at night. This melatonin also turns off later in the day making it harder to wake up early.
Since conflict of the body’s biological clock and the demands of society have serious consequences, we must look at ways to alleviate these risks. What seems like a smart starting point is to look at school start times that initiate the rhythm of the day for everyone from students to parents, teachers, and even the community.
Some school districts have pushed back start times and have found significant changes in not only in higher test scores and reduced absences, but lower accident rates in athletics as well as teen involved car crashes. One such school in Lexington, KY found that teen car crashes for 17 to 18 year olds dropped by over 16% in the two years they started their time shift. During this same period, the accident rate for the same group increased by nearly 8% in the rest of the state.
Pushing school start times to 8:30 or even 9:00 will go a long way in improving the lives of our children, giving them the ability to learn and retain more, have less sick days and better health all around, and are less likely to be in a teen involved car crash or just injured in everyday activities. Let’s stop the harmful yearly ritual and start a new, refreshing one that doesn’t have devastating effects on our children.