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Our High Schools Should Start Later!

Original post made by Caring About Teens on Nov 13, 2009

Here's new research about the tie between sleep deprivation and teen depression: Web Link

Our schools should start later. Teens are hard wired to want to stay up later and sleep later. It's time to really address this persistent sleep depth for our adolescents. PLEASE, PAUSD, START GUNN AND PALY LATER.

Comments (30)

Posted by Sleep Deprived, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 13, 2009 at 9:03 am

Teenagers need nine hours of sleep a night and be able to sleep later in the morning. European schools have long recognized this fact; most high schools in northern Europe start at 9:00 AM and classes end at 4:00 PM with a minimum of 2 hours of homework.

School hours in Palo Alto were established for the benefit of the teachers and not the kids. So long as the teacher's union has control of the schedules nothing will change.

The difference is European kids are not expected to hold down a job after school which my sons did. Maybe we shouldn't expect them to work after school hours and do massive amounts of homework. Our kids are sleep deprived and depressed.

Posted by 2 Many 3:00 AMs 4 Me 2, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

Ah, yes, the usual reflexive copout: blame the unions. Well, there was definitely no union at the Catholic school I attended, which was in session from 8:00 to 3:00.

Sleep deprivation will continue as long as parents and teachers mistake many hours of hard labor over homework for education. If school starts one hour later, it is likely the homework will increase by one hour, by popular demand.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2009 at 9:47 am

I fear the early start has little to do with Unions, but more to do with sports schedules.

If the kids drank less caffeine in the evenings while doing their homework, started homework a little earlier, and actually did homework without being distracted by facebook, tv, youtube, texting, etc. they might get to bed earlier and therefore find it easier to get up earlier.

As someone who had an 8.45 start every day at school, once you get used to the start time, it is always difficult to get up and go to school.

Paly starts later on Wednesdays all year and Thursdays for 1st semester. Why doesn't Gunn?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:03 am

Eliminating an hour of homework would do more then starting school an hour later. As it is, athletes often miss 7th period.

A later start time would also impact the parents who work and drive their kids to school.

Posted by Another parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:27 am

Hey if you want to make a change join the facebook group Let Our Teens Sleep. We're working to get school start times moved later especially for Palo Alto teens.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

Article in SF Chronicle today - Sleep may limit teens' depression.

Web Link

Posted by Papar, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I hate to be the one who brings this up but some of the sleep deprivation can be blamed on all the ipods, texting, facebooking, etc. I know that is not the case for all teens but it is for many. Teens are still kids and they are not masters of time management yet. Parents need to pull the plugs at bedtime. I went to a city school and had to rise with the sun to make my commute. My parents strictly enforced tv off/no phone after 10pm. Now parents have a lot more plugs to pull.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Blame the unions? Blame the teachers? I blame gut less parents who don't have the courage to take away cell phones and demand that kids go to sleep by 10pm. They would get their 8 hrs. of sleep. Starting classes at 9am is no real answer to kid's depression. What would adding one more hour to the start of school do for the kids? Nothing! You want a quick fit for depression. Try being less of your child's friend and more of a parent. Take back your power as a parent. The bucks stops with you - the parent.

Posted by Another parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Actually, teens are biologically programmed to go to sleep at 11pm and get up at 8am. This is what they need to do. Our school starts too early and they start the day at a defecit. An ipod has nothing to do with it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Biologically programmed? In what time zone is that? Is that for Daylight Savings Time?

I don't understand that one. I used to live in the far north when I was a child and had to go to bed while it was still daylight in summer and we had very few hours of daylight in winter. I think our bodies get used to sleeping a certain number of hours from start to finish so the start time is just as crucial as the finish time.

Kids get hyper in the evenings and rather than winding down slowly at the end of the day as we older folk do, they tend to have an adrenalin rush, often brought on by social interraction, concentrating on homework and drinking caffeine, eating chocolate, sugar and salty food to help them focus and then they can't wind down. If they study and then go to bed they can't sleep because their minds are still awake. If they can unwind slowly and relax before bedtime they will sleep better.

Posted by pamom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2009 at 6:43 pm

My sons are out of high school but I agree the start time should be later. This is not meant as a cure for depression--this is meant as a very easy way to help teens get the sleep they need. That helps to reduce stress and that is what is important. For some teens that might not make a difference, but for most teens I definitely think a later start time would be very beneficial.

Posted by Why blame anyone?, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Playing the blame game isn't helpful. Let's don't blame, let's try to change things. The past is water under the bridge. I'll join that Facebook group, but what else can we do to make things better now? How can we get things changed in today's world?

Posted by Number game, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 14, 2009 at 5:53 am

It is all relative.

7am, 8am, 9am is just a number. It all depends on how much "Sun" is out or how bright it is when one wakes up.

So if a teen has to wake up at 7:00am to reach school at 8:00am, computing backwards based on 9 hrs of sleep the teen must sleep by 10:00pm.

BUT That is ridiculous based on the homework that is assigned !!!!

Darn !

We simply do not have enough hours in a day. Lets have 26 hrs in a day - these hours may be shorter hours than we have now.

Phew! While we are at it lets shoot for 30 hrs in a day.

Its just a number !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2009 at 7:51 am

Actually, there is a great body of research on circadian rhythms and sleep cycles in humans. Teens do tend to have biorhythms that are shifted as described above.
Moreover, I disagree with the notion that, once the later start time is routine it is just as hard to get up. My teens have discovered that they do much better when they arrange their schedules so that they have a 1st period prep. They get extra sleep, have time to eat breakfast (also proven to be very important for school performance), print out or tidy up last night's homework and off they go. I have noticed that their grades are better and they are generally more cheerful on this schedule and that this persists through the semester.
This option is not feasible for everyone, so I believe that the entire schedule should be shifted as described above (9-4).

Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2009 at 8:03 am

Addendum: More health problems caused by sleep deprivation, including possible increased risk of diabetes and cancer. Study done by University of Chicago in healthy young people found insulin resistance ("pre-diabetes") developed after just 3 days of sleep deprivation.

Web Link

Posted by Meri Gruber, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

Chronic teen sleep loss is very real, and is not correctable as the article suggests by parents simply setting an earlier bedtime. Most teens experience a sleep phase delay, which means they can't physically fall asleep until 11pm or later. This leads to chronic sleep loss in many teens who must wake up for early school start times.

"Brown University's Dr. Mary Carskadon has demonstrated that during puberty, the circadian system – the biological clock – does a "phase shift" that keeps adolescents up later. In prepubescents and grownups, when it gets dark outside, our brains produce melatonin, which makes us sleepy. But adolescent brains don't release melatonin for another 90 minutes. So even if they're in bed at 10 p.m (which they aren't), they lay awake, staring at the ceiling. It's possible that this played some evolutionary role, back when teens needed to leave the tribe and explore or hunt. Awakened at dawn by alarm clocks, teen brains are still releasing melatonin. This pressures them to fall back asleep – either in first period at school or, more dangerously, during the drive to school. Which is one of the reasons young adults are responsible for more than half of the 100,000 "fall asleep" crashes annually." Web Link

School districts that have delayed school start times have shown:
23.4% Net decrease in teen crash rates
212 Point increase in SAT scores
Better sports results, more participation

Locally, Woodside High recently changed start times. "This year, Woodside High began staggering start times with 60 percent of students starting at 9 a.m. Noting research showing positive effects on students with later start times, the Board of Trustees decided to explore starting all its high schools at a later time. 'This is a change with the lowest cost that could have the highest impact on students," said Trustee Gordon Lewin.' " Web Link

Menlo-Atherton High School has an award-winning sleep education program (Web Link) led by sleep experts William Dement and Mark Rosekind and M-A parent Eileen Van Rheenan. After four years, changing start times is now under consideration.

The teen internal clock shifts and earlier start times forces chronic sleep loss. We continue to operate with the assumption that teens are like adults, that sleep loss is tiring but manageable. However the well researched and documented reality is that the magnitude of the effect of sleep loss on teens is exponentially damaging. Teens need developmentally appropriate school schedules to address and correct sleep loss.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 14, 2009 at 10:31 am

Ugh. Sounds like a stupid arguement. My neighbor has kids leaving his house after 10 so maybe parents should just start to get their kids home at reasonable hours. Kids and parents need to take a course on time management.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Do the math - if you're a kid with an after school sport or activity (which most high school students have) , say you get home at 6 (lots of kids its later, but we'll go with that), you eat dinner, start your homework at 7, again pretty reasonable assumption. Lets say you only 5 classes (most kids have 6-7) at 45 minutes of homeworkper class (again that could be lite), you've got almost 3.75 hours for 5 classes, 4.5 for 6, 5.25 for 7 classes. That puts you to bed at 10:45-12:25.

Sleep deprivation in this case is caused simply by too much homework.

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Late start means too many student athletes miss too much school to make it to sporting events. The idea is to protect instructional time for student athletes. The principal at Paly went over all this in 2008 in the school newspaper.

Posted by Paly mom A, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Looks as though there are two Paly Moms/Palo Alto school! I'm the one talking about teen circadian rhythms in an earler post.

I think homework, sporting events and other after school activities should be scheduled in such a way that they do not consistently compromise sleep and other aspects of a healthy life.

Does anyone know how they worked this out at Woodside?

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Regarding Woodside High School, I just checked their website and for 2009-1010 they have an 8:00am 1st period Mon-Thurs, with an additional 0 period at 7am. Monday they start at 9:05, as part of a block schedule. Maybe a late start for us would be good on Mondays, since sports events rarely happen on Mondays.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Do you think kids in India and China are complaining about having to get up too early? I think not. How far are people willing to go to spoil kids? I had to work while I was in school to earn money to eat. I wasn't allowed to participate in any school sports. Kids these days should be happy for what they have!

Maybe we should talk about 4 10 hour schooldays. Or tele-schooling.

Posted by HS parent., a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

We've programmed our internet router to shut off at 10 am everyday. It shuts off not just for the kids in the house but everyone. This automatic timer does enforce a sleep time in this house. I'd encourage others to do it also.

Buy the Apple AirPort router it can be programmed to turn off when you want. With a NetGear router you can just get a simple timer to pull the power when you want it off.

I do wish there was a way to put facebook on a timer. So, homework hours could be enforced with it off. If anyone has a solution for that let us know.

Posted by Work2getBetter, a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2009 at 10:00 pm

In France, the students have Wednesdays off to do sports, music, or get caught up on homework. Seems like a nice pace. Working people have nice long vacations too. The pace of life is very hectic in the US, and our productivity doesn't always benefit from it. Later in life, we suffer more health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Seems like we should take a long, hard look at school hours and see what can be improved for the long term benefits (health/happiness) as well as the short term ones (avoid depression/better productivity).

Posted by Another parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2009 at 9:26 am

Hey Robit, I hardly got any sleep at all during high school and college. I had a job and took care of siblings and did homework late every night. Just because I survived does not mean it was good for me. The current research shows that the earlier posts are correct: high school age children are biologically programmed to sleep at about 11 at night and get up at 8 or later. Accommodating this is not spoiling. It is simply reasonable, humane and effective when raising and educating teens. Why would you argue that tormenting our youth is appropriate just because others have had to adjust to poor conditions? I suggest you do some research and come into this discussion without the chip on your shoulder.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 16, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I have brought shame to my village.

No amount of research is going to lead me to believe that waking up an hour later is somehow going to revolutionize teen years. I would stick with focusing on the importance of nutrition. Part of growing up is learning to schedule your time. And I don't think that the state of California should be rescheduled because teenagers like to sleep in. Im sure if school started later, most parents would still have to drop kids at school at the same time due to work/schedule conflict.

Posted by HSParent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 16, 2009 at 1:31 pm

>> We've programmed our internet router to shut off at 10 am everyday.

That should have read 10 PM.

Posted by Capbreton, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Interesting discussion as my HS teen gets up at 5:45am every day to catch Caltrain to get to her high school school in San Francisco.

On the up-and-back she can get an hour to 90 mins of homework done on the train. With *rare* exception she's in bed -- and asleep (not staring at the ceiling) -- by 10p, latest, because she is tired, not wired. So, 8 hours sleep per night on average.

The TV is never on during the week, period. No salty/sugary foods and there are *zero* sodas in the house. Computer is for homework only. Texting and Facebook banned during study time and phone is off. iPod OK to use.

Clearly, house rules and time management are far bigger factors than nudging start times 60 minutes here or there. A larger factor is probably homework. You need to make sure that it's real homework and not busywork being assigned by teachers that just burns time for no good reason (IMHO). My daughter has loads of friends at Paly and I suggest this is a non-trivial issue.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2009 at 6:06 pm

"You need to make sure that it's real homework and not busywork being assigned by teachers that just burns time for no good reason (IMHO). My daughter has loads of friends at Paly and I suggest this is a non-trivial issue."

I totally agree that much of the Paly homework is busywork. Any suggestions for how to get rid of it? 90 minutes a day of focussed homework for a HS student is totally appropriate and would allow enough sleep, downtime, etc.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Robit Noops,

Ever checked out the suicide rates in China and India? They're high--so, sorry, using Asia in this context is a mistake. Depression and suicide are known to be major issues in those countries.

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