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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits 13 Making Changes in Your School and Community Imagine this scenario: Your teen gets out of bed in the morning without you having to nag her and drag her out. She’s in a pretty good mood, and there’s no major hassle before she runs off to catch the school bus, with completed homework in hand. During first-period class and for the rest of the day, she’s wide awake, participates in discussions, and even asks a question or two. When she gets back the chemistry exam she took a few days ago, she’s gotten an A, a huge improvement from her usual grades in the sciences. After school, during track practice, she’s full of energy and her coach tells her she’s going to anchor the relay at the next meet. In the evening, though she’s a bit tired after a full day, she does her homework, IMs with her friends, and gets to bed around 11:00. Before she drifts right off to sleep, she sets her alarm clock for 7:30 so she can get to school comfortably in time for her first class at 8:45. Does this sound like a fantasy? If your teen, like most teens, has been grouchy, depressed, low performing, and often sick or energy deprived from lack of sleep, it may seem that way. But great days like this can become reality. (OK, her room’s still a bit of a mess and she did get upset because the jeans she wanted to wear hadn’t been washed, but this is as close to perfection as I can imagine.) All of the recommendations I’ve made so far will improve your teen’s health, mood,
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits performance, and well-being by helping her get more sleep. My final recommendation for making that happen, and it’s a major one, is to get involved in the drive to move school start times later. Having schools start just 45 minutes later can make a huge difference in your teen’s life, because that can mean 45 minutes of additional sleep, with all the benefits sleep provides. (Contrary to what you might think, teens whose schools have later start times do use the extra time for sleep; they don’t stay up later, but go to sleep at the same time they always have and sleep later in the morning.) After the high schools in the Arlington, Virginia, public school system moved their start times from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m., students reported in a survey that they felt more alert and prepared for school and teachers reported improvement in both student alertness and participation. Parents noted that their teens had a much better attitude. Other schools, one of whose journey to later start times I’ll detail later, reported significant reductions in school dropout rates, less student depression, and higher student grades as well as a number of other extremely positive outcomes. Simply put, students who attend schools that are more in sync with their natural sleep-wake schedules are more able to learn and are happier doing it. Schools with later start times have positive effects on teachers and parents too. IT’S A FACT In a study of Minnesota schools in which start times were moved an hour later, results showed that: Discipline problems went down Illness calls dropped Grades trended up Student depression decreased Students and teachers were much happier Could your teen and your area’s schools benefit from later school start times? In a word, yes—and it’s something both you and your teen can work toward. To help support your effort, this chapter is chock
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits full of information and advice from organizations and schools that have made later start times a reality. You’ll also find several ways to support sleep deprivation awareness in your schools and community. Why We Have Early Start Times Way back in the Dark Ages, when you and I were in middle school and high school, classes began somewhere around 8:15 or 8:30; my husband’s school even began at 9:00. But over the last several decades, start times have crept ever earlier. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most high schools in the United States now start by 7:30 a.m., and some begin as early as 7:15. Because of shower and prep time; before-school activities, such as band practice and religious school; the need for parents to get their kids to school before they leave for the early work shift; and school bus schedules that are set in stone, many students now get up by 6:00 and some even at 5:00. That means many teenagers, whose circadian rhythm can keep them awake until midnight, are averaging no more than six hours of sleep a night. SNOOZE NEWS In addition to contributing to sleep deprivation, which you now know results in myriad detrimental effects on teens’ health and well-being, early school start times contribute directly to increased juvenile crime. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, violent crimes committed by juveniles peak in the hours right after school lets out; schools with early start times end on the early side too. The start of the day can present problems as well. Some students must get dropped off at school more than half an hour before classes begin, in order to give the buses time to pick up and deliver the other students. Often those students have minimal supervision, providing opportunity for trouble. What moved start times earlier? Basically, the financial straits that many schools are in. Districts with thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students to pick up and deliver found that it’s far less costly for just a few buses and drivers to transport all the kids. So that means that some kids must be picked up very early, and therefore the schools must start early too. In Montgomery County, Maryland, high school students start boarding buses at 6:25 to be in class by 7:25. The result of schools starting so early? As a recent study of the sleep patterns of incoming high school seniors, published in Pediatrics,
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits revealed, current high school start times contribute to sleep deprivation in adolescents. And as I’ve said throughout this book, sleep deprivation leads to many, many negative health, behavioral, emotional, and learning outcomes. Moving start times later, however, can help to turn those outcomes around. School Districts That Have Made the Change Because of all the information that’s been surfacing on the relationship between teen sleep deprivation and poor school performance, school districts throughout the United States have been looking into the possibility of having later start times. Though a great deal is involved in making such a change, and while only a few districts have implemented the change as I write, the movement is growing and the results have been positive. Here is the story of one district that met the challenges and succeeded. Wilton School District, Wilton, Connecticut Wilton, Connecticut, is a suburban community with approximately 4,300 elementary, middle, and high school students. Before the start times were moved later, grades 3 to 5 began their day at 8:15, kindergarten to grade 2 began at 9:00, and grades 6 to 12 started at 7:35, with buses delivering the students at coordinated times. The idea of having later start times came to the district through Wilton’s League of Women Voters (WLWV), whose members had heard a presentation on the subject by the president of the Connecticut Senate, Kevin Sullivan. The League was intrigued, and put together a committee to investigate the issue further. Six months and a great deal of research and interviewing later, the committee presented its report and the WLWV decided to support later school start times. When the WLWV made its presentation, the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education were invited to attend. Both the superintendent and the board saw the benefits of the proposition, and quickly got behind the idea. The WLWV then began to educate the public. Members spoke to as many community groups as they could, including the school PTAs. They also had a survey conducted that enabled students and teachers
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits to contribute to a start time proposal. The Wilton Education Foundation provided an opportunity for the community to discuss the issue, and the Connecticut Thoracic Society assembled a task force to both raise awareness and advocate for the change. Wilton’s superintendent then announced that later start times would be put into effect. Parents were asked to provide input and meetings were held for questions and concerns. One big concern was the effect the new start times would have on the sports program. Many felt that the change in start times would negatively affect practices and games and cause Wilton to be dropped from its athletic conference. The other major concern was that younger children would have to start school earlier in order for the teens to start later. After hearing the parents’ concerns, the superintendent talked to the head of the athletic conference. The director agreed that later start times were important and said he would make every effort to work with the school’s new schedule; he also promised that the district would not be dropped from the conference. The superintendent then decided that the youngest students, those in kindergarten through grade 2, should not be involved in the change and that no student should have to get on a bus before 7:00 a.m. The superintendent next sent the proposed start times to his staff and the PTA. Though responses were mixed, he decided to send the proposal on to the Board of Education. In the spring of 2003, the board approved it. In the fall of that year, the new schedule, which basically flipped the high school start time with the grade school start time, was put into effect. The upper elementary grades now started school at 7:35 and the middle and high schools started at 8:15, giving all the adolescents 40 more minutes of sleep. What were the results of the change? For one, no additional buses had to be leased, so there was no increased transportation cost. Implementing the new schedule also went smoothly—it took administrators, parents, and students only about two months to adjust. But the big changes were in high school student performance, behavior, attitude, and mood. A summary of the changes reported by the National Sleep Foundation noted that teachers found that students
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits “were more awake, had better attitudes, and were overall more pleasant.” In addition, the number of students who said they had no trouble with daytime sleepiness doubled and there has been a trend toward higher grades. Coaches at the school, who had been worried they wouldn’t be able to hold practices because of the time change, reported that their teams had one of the best athletic seasons ever, winning several state championships. A year after the later start time went into effect, the vast majority of the school community reported being very happy with the new schedule. MORE POSITIVE OUTCOMES Other high schools where the first bell now rings later, including the following, have also reported very positive results: In Minneapolis’s Edina school district, studies found that there was marked improvement in student behavior, students felt more alert and well rested during the first hour of class and less tired at the end of the day, students had less erratic sleep behaviors, after-school activities were not negatively affected, there was a significant reduction in school dropout rates, less depression was evidenced, higher grades were reported, and teachers reported positive effects on both their professional and personal lives. In the Fayette County, Kentucky, school district, school attendance has gone up and tardiness is down. More than half the high school students in the district now get at least eight hours of sleep and the rate of traffic accidents in the county has gone down by 15 percent. How You Can Help Change School Start Times If, like many parents, you believe that having middle and high schools start later would benefit teen health and happiness, there’s a lot you can do to support the effort at the local level. First of all, you can educate your community on the difference in teens’ circadian rhythm, the negative effects of sleep deprivation, how early start times contribute to sleep loss, and how teens do much bet-
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits ter at schools with later start times. You may encounter opposition as you go— change scares a lot of people, and changes will have to be made—but try to network with people and organizations that support your position. Gather as many facts and positive examples as you can. Then make a plan for how you’ll put your information to work. The National Sleep Foundation’s Web site (www.sleepfoundation.org), offers tons of information that will help you all along the way. The site provides fact sheets, information on a number of schools across the country that have succeeded in moving start times later, and ideas to consider as you go about designing your own plan and moving toward change. The organization also provides the following tips for making change more likely: A TEEN’S TAKE “At 8:00 in the morning it is almost impossible to focus and take notes or a test without dozing off or thinking about how tired you are. If schools started later, teens wouldn’t be constantly tired, allowing them to focus and accomplish so much more. They would perform better academically and physically. They wouldn’t be so cranky and irritable. Basically everything would be better.” Start early to educate the community and all parties involved. Use hard data and testimonials. Consider the research and what you hope to gain, not lose. Network with other schools to learn from their experience. Apply what you learn to your school district’s particular challenges or concerns. Community engagement is key, and this means parents, students, teachers, transportation staff, cafeteria staff, extracurricular personnel, coaches, employers, and anyone else involved in the issue. Understand from the beginning that a change in start times will affect the entire community, and set out to make sure that all of these parties are involved in the process. Involve them in a variety of ways (e-mail, letters, forums, surveys, etc.), and allow them the opportunity to express their opinions anonymously. Be clear about your goals. Keep your eye on the bottom line: the academic performance, health, safety, and quality of life for stu-
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits dents. Do not get overwhelmed by the logistics and obstacles; rather, continue to emphasize the overall goal. Students’ needs are foremost. Be flexible as the process proceeds. Consider all the issues, needs, and agendas of all parties. Identify potential sources of resistance and address their needs. Be prepared with research and facts. Zealots generally are not effective. Have a clear plan. Gather a coalition and form committees. Develop a timetable. Decide on guidelines for the change and create goals to measure your progress. Communicate all along the way and especially throughout the implementation. Allow time to adjust and plan for the change. THINK NATIONALLY AS WELL AS LOCALLY Efforts to move school start times later are also happening at the state and national levels. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Virginia have introduced legislation to look into the issue. Though it hasn’t yet passed, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California introduced a resolution to the U.S. Congress to move school start times later. If you’re interested in working to legislate wider change, a variety of federal agencies and national health care organizations, as well as social service organizations and parent-teacher associations, can help lead the way. One Parent Group’s Story Despite the many challenges that can be involved, including transportation schedules and costs, after-school day care concerns for younger children, worries relating to after-school sports and other extracurricular activities, conflicts in facilities use, and related changes in teachers and parents’ professional and personal lives, a number of school districts in several states have successfully moved school start times later. Other districts are now looking into the possibilities armed with facts and figures provided by parent groups and other organizations that have learned about the benefits the change could bring. One of those parent groups is known as S.L.E.E.P., short for Sleep
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits Later for Excellence in Education Proposal. The group, whose goal is to move Fairfax County, Virginia, middle and high schools to later start times, was founded in 2003 by cochairs Phyllis Payne and Sandy Evans. Payne, a public health educator, and Evans, a journalist, were introduced by a mutual friend who knew of their common interest in the problems that stem from early school start times. Phyllis Payne’s interest in the issue actually started a number of years before she met Sandy Evans. Even though her own children were in elementary school at the time, she was concerned to see high school students waiting in the dark for the school bus every morning. Worried for them, she also projected ahead to when her own kids would have to wait in the dark. To all of that she added the fact that she wasn’t an early riser, and looked ahead, with dread, to the time that she would be getting up well before dawn to get her own kids out the door. SNOOZE NEWS Still another way that sleep deprivation negatively affects teens is in what’s called “school engagement,” which the National Center on Effective Secondary Schools defines as being invested in and committed to learning. With as many as 40 percent of tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders working 20 or more hours a week, and with teens’ natural alert time being later in the day and in the evening, sleep researchers such as Mary Carskadon worry that a large number of students will come to prefer work, where they feel awake and good and are making money, over school. A study is now being done to look at the link between sleep loss, school engagement, and academic and emotional functioning in adolescents in order to foster greater school engagement. School engagement is especially important in urban areas because dropout rates tend to be higher there. As she thought about the problem, she began to read and learn more about it. She discovered that safety and what she calls “quality of life issues” weren’t the only concerns. Because kids had to catch the bus so early, they had to wake up very early, most likely after going to sleep fairly late; teens were becoming sleep deprived, and sleep deprivation was harming them in a multitude of ways. When Payne and Evans met, both had come to the conclusion that teenagers needed more sleep and that an important way to make that happen was to have schools start later in the morning. They also realized that sleep deprivation was a community-wide problem and that
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits they needed to work for change not just for their own kids but for adolescents throughout the area. The two started out by putting together a fact sheet about the effects of sleep deprivation and the benefits of later start times, and sent it to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, seeking support. The response was immediate and positive. Payne and Evans received more than 300 e-mails from parents who knew the problems of sleep deprivation firsthand—and wanted to help. The next steps the pair took were to create a Web site (www.sleepinfairfax.org) and start collecting signatures on a petition to start middle and high schools after 8:15 a.m. (the current start time for most of the high schools is 7:20; middle schools begin between 7:25 and 7:50). By putting the petition on the Web site, which a student helped design, they have been able to gather over 5,300 signatures so far, clear evidence of strong community interest in helping teens get more sleep. Inspired by the outpouring of support, Payne and Evans have continued with their work. While the number of petition signatures grows, they have taken a sleep-related survey of students, teachers, and parents. They have also made presentations to school board members and to the superintendent of schools, both of whom determine the bell schedules for the district. The superintendent has already agreed to hire a transportation consultant to look into other possibilities for more effective use of buses and drivers. Evans has also done a route analysis of the buses in her area and found that 19 out of 22 buses pick up and deliver students to school in 38 minutes or less while three buses take an hour and 15 minutes. From this evidence, Evans and Payne believe that the students in those three buses, and other kids who spend a great deal of time on a bus, should be able to be transported to school in a much more reasonable time frame. They’re now lobbying the school board and the superintendent for a route-by-route analysis. When Payne and Evans founded S.L.E.E.P., they knew change wouldn’t come easily. “Changes will have to be made, but it can be hard for some parents to imagine them, even when they know the end result will be good. Parents who don’t have kids in middle or high school yet can have a particularly difficult time understanding the
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits need,” Phyllis Payne said. Dealing with the logistics involved with getting tens of thousands of students to 200 elementary, middle, and high schools on 1,500 buses was also daunting. Early on the pair learned that the school board had created a task force several years before to delve into the issue and that the task force hadn’t been able to figure out an effective way to compress the bus schedules and make start times later. Payne and Evans were encouraged to learn, though, that the task force had met only three times and that it had recommended the district keep trying to solve the problems, because later start times would benefit the entire community. They were also encouraged by the progress they were making and were determined to keep moving ahead. Their goal, Phyllis Payne says, is to make start times later. But the way to that goal, she adds, is to educate and communicate—not propose a specific bus or school schedule. “Sandy and I aren’t transportation experts,” she states. “So we decided early on that it wasn’t our job to come up with the solution. What we’re trying to do is spread the word that there’s a problem and that it can be fixed, and to get the entire community to work on the problem together. If we work school by school, each separate group will be trying to solve its own problems. That can lead to arguing and getting away from the real purpose. “Everyone needs to know that last year the earliest bus pickup was at 5:45 a.m. This year it’s 5:23. Some students are leaving for high school two hours before it begins, and they have that long ride home at the end of the day. Parents of younger kids don’t know this is happening. Parents of kids who don’t get picked up as early don’t know it either. We want to inform the public and we want them to help us work for change.” But don’t try to change things too fast, Payne advises. “People are so resistant to change, and if you try to move too quickly you’re bound to fail,” she states. “My daughter is in eighth grade now and my son is in fifth, and I do hope later start times will be in effect before they’re out of high school. My goal, though, is to help have later starts for all the kids in the community.”
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits MORE TIPS FROM S.L.E.E.P. TO START A PARENT GROUP OF YOUR OWN Find one volunteer at each of the high schools in your area to be a point person for outreach and to determine the problems at that school and those at its elementary and middle feeder schools. Those problems can then be brought to the attention of the main group. If volunteers aren’t available at some schools, look for student coordinators who are willing to help. Students can also act as adjuncts to adult volunteers. Gathering signatures for a petition is easier and faster when done online. The Web site www.petitionsonline.com will let you establish one free of charge; you can make a donation if you like. A short PowerPoint slide show is a great way to get the word out to administrators, PTAs, and others you want to reach. You can also connect with wider audiences by: Putting articles in parent newsletters and student newspapers Answering articles or letters to the editor about sleep and school start times Making up and distributing bumper stickers that include your Web site address (one of the S.L.E.E.P. stickers says “Tired of Early School Start Times?” and features the Web address) Linking your site to the PTA site Making presentations at Back to School Night and other events Work with your school administrators. Some will resist the move for change but others will get behind it. Recruit local college students to help compile data and to write reports. Keep a file of all positive articles and data related to later start times and send copies to the superintendent of schools and all the members of the school board. Network with schools in other districts where start times have been moved later. Spreading Sleep Deprivation Awareness As Phyllis Payne of S.L.E.E.P. said, above, it can take some time to see the drive to move school start times later succeed. But while that effort
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits is going forward, there are several things you—and your teen—can do to get the word out about the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. Encourage school administrators to include a unit on sleep in such classes as health, biology, or driver education. The National Institutes of Health provides a free supplementary curriculum on sleep aimed at ninth- through twelfth-grade biology students. The curriculum, entitled “Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms,” is available in print form as well as online at www.science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih3/sleep/default.htm. You can also work at the county or state level to have sleep education incorporated into the health curriculum in all elementary, middle, and high schools. Offer to arrange for a sleep doctor to speak at the annual meeting of science teachers to educate those teachers and have them become sleep advocates too. Encourage your teen to do a science fair project related to sleep. For example, she could track how much time friends, family members, and other students and adults sleep and how sleep duration and quality affect memory or reaction time. Talk with school administrators about holding a school wellness fair that includes a display about the benefits of sufficient sleep. Arrange for a sleep doctor from your community to speak to students, PTAs, or community forums. Develop fact sheets and obtain permission to distribute them to individuals or groups who work with teens, such as school nurses, coaches, and police personnel. Encourage your PTA to advocate for sleep deprivation awareness. Help younger children become aware of the negative effects of lack of sleep by working with local youth organi- SNOOZE NEWS Recently an exciting program was given the go-ahead to evaluate the effectiveness of a preventive sleep-education curriculum for middle schools. Funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the Adolescent Sleep Smart Pacemaker Program will be tested with seventh graders over a three-year period. Developed by noted researcher Dr. Amy Wolfson, the eight-seminar course emphasizing the importance of sleep and good sleep habits may become the basis for integrating sleep education into our middle schools.
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Snooze…Or Lose!: 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits zations, such as the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, to develop programs about sleep. Scouts could be awarded a badge for taking part in activities relating to sleep awareness. Once your teen has developed a successful sleep-wake regimen, encourage her to speak to friends and younger kids about strategies for getting more rest. Arrange an annual school assembly on sleep during National Sleep Awareness Week each March.
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