kitchen table math, the sequel: Jet lagged in high school

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jet lagged in high school

Andrew has graduated!

In June --- (which reminds me, I must try to get the photos the director of pupil personnel took...)

We've been getting up at 6:15 am for years (is it 7 years now? longer?).

The bus for his new program comes around 9, so now we get up when we wake up.

It's amazing, but also disorienting. Have to figure out a new morning routine.
In a series of conversations with sleep scientists this May, facilitated by a Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, I learned that the consequences of lack of sleep are severe. While we all suffer from sleep inertia (a general grogginess and lack of mental clarity), the stickiness of that inertia depends largely on the quantity and quality of the sleep that precedes it. If you’re fully rested, sleep inertia dissipates relatively quickly. But, when you’re not, it can last far into the day, with unpleasant and even risky results.

Many of us have been experiencing the repercussions of inadequate sleep since childhood. Judith Owens, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, has been studying the effects of school start times on the well-being of school-age kids—and her conclusions are not encouraging. Most adults are fine with about eight hours of sleep, but toddlers need around thirteen hours, including a daytime nap. Teens need around nine and a half hours; what’s more, they tend to be night owls, whose ideal circadian rhythm has them going to bed and waking up late. As schools have pushed their start times earlier and earlier—a trend that first started in the sixties, Owens says—the health effects on students have been severe. “It’s not just sleep loss. It’s circadian disruption,” Owens says. “They have to wake up when their brain tells them to be deeply asleep. Waking a teen at six in the morning is like waking an adult at three at night.”

The result is a kind of constant jet lag—and one that is exacerbated by sleeping in on the weekends. Executive function and emotional responses get worse, hurting everything from judgment to emotional reactivity. The ability to make good decisions can suffer, and kids can become more prone to act out and get depressed. In fact, the rise in A.D.H.D. diagnoses may, in part, be the result of inadequate sleep: in children, symptoms of sleep deprivation include hyperactivity and impaired interpretation of social cues. Owens has seen many such misdiagnoses in her clinical practice. The effects are physical, as well. Children who undersleep are more likely to gain weight and become obese. Even for infants as young as six months, amounts of sleep can predict weight gain three years later.

Schools with healthier start times, on the other hand, see an increase in attendance, test scores, G.P.A.s, and health. In one study in which an intervention pushed start times later, it wasn’t just academic outcomes that improved; car crashes went down by as much as seventy per cent, and self-reported depression rates fell. Even a delay of as little as half an hour, Owens has found, improves outcomes. “It should be about the health and well-being of the students,” she told me, “and not the convenience of adults.”

The Walking Dead by Maria Konnikova | July 9, 2015 | The New Yorker


TerriW said...

I've heard speculation that one of the big reasons homeschoolers tend to score high on standardized tests is because they get significantly more sleep on a regular basis.

TerriW said...

I've heard speculation that one of the big reasons homeschoolers tend to score high on standardized tests is because they get significantly more sleep on a regular basis.

Froggiemama said...

I am not convinced that there was a trend to push start times earlier and earlier. Everything I have read about schools in the 30's and 40's, and before has indicated that the school day started really early, so that kids could get home to work at chores or hold down badly needed jobs. Of course, kids then did not have TVs or tablets to keep them up.

Certainly when I was in school in the late 60's and 70's, we started really early. My bus came at 6:55, for a high school start time of 7:30. And my parents told me they had started school even earlier than that in their day.

I also think that if they tried later start times in lower income districts, there would be problems with teens skipping school because there is no adult home to supervise. Many working parents have to be out very early.

And in higher income districts, they will just end up shifting sports practices to the morning, negating the early start time. In my district, one of the elementary schools already holds orchestra and band practice before school.

Anonymous said...

TerriW: "I've heard speculation that one of the big reasons homeschoolers tend to score high on standardized tests is because they get significantly more sleep on a regular basis."

Much more likely is that the sampling methodology of the two studies that usually back this claim ... well ... suck.

Random quote:
"For example, two large U.S. studies (Rudner, 1999; Ray, 2009) are frequently cited as definitive evidence that homeschoolers academically outperform public and private school students. But in both cases, the homeschool participants were volunteers responding to an invitation by the nation’s most prominent advocacy organization to contribute test scores (on tests usually administered by parents in the child’s own home)."

You can't just ask people from the population in question to submit scores and expect the scores to be representative of the population as a whole. You can't.

-Mark Roulo

Hainish said...

What's really amazing to me is that, despite local control of schools at the district level, you still have schools doing the same things, in lock-step.

I'm convinced that if we want to solve this problem, we need to eliminate district lines and have school choice.