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Are your teens getting enough sleep?

Original post made on May 30, 2007

Three local high schools are beginning to look at the significance of sleep for teens as part of the fight against stress. Would you support a later start time for high schools? How would it impact your teens and family?
See cover story: Web Link
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    Read the full story here Web Link

  • Comments (27)

    Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 30, 2007 at 6:38 am

    I don't know about the rest of the high schoolers, but in my high schooler's case the hour of arising and/or the homework load are not the problems. The problems come from the choices he makes which lead him to stay up until midnight finishing homework. He COULD plan his evening better, and go to bed by 10, but doesn't.

    Moving school back an hour would not do anything to change his daily choices, it would just delay them.

    Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on May 30, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I agree with resident above. When I went to high school my school started at 8.50 every day and still we all stayed in bed to the last minute and complained how tired we were. I think it is down to the old addage that an hour before midnight is better than two after. I think that getting to bed earlier needs to be the mindset, and that may mean starting homework earlier for many teens. I try to get my kids to start doing their homework earlier, but now that the evenings are long they like to be out until its dark. That means they start homework later and consequently get to bed later.

    There is definitely a problem this time of year getting the kids to bed at a reasonable time. I know that this is the time of year when teachers lay on homework as they have to get everything finished on time and do catch up. But realistically for families, with baseball games, etc. going on until nearly 8.00 it is very hard for us not to be late to bed. I would like to see less homework at this time of year, but I know it won't happen.

    Posted by member, a resident of Professorville
    on May 31, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Great article. This is a serious problem for teens.

    Excellent tips for adults and teens in Dr.Helene Emsellem's book
    or website, www.Snooze or Lose, the book pictured in your article.

    Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
    on May 31, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    This is excellent information. The Milwaukee school district some years ago began to experiment with a later starting hour, based on sleep research findings.

    Like most other good information on smoking, diet, etc. etc., much of this will be ignored, because mmost of us are creatures of habit. Also, lack of sleep keeps the stimulant industry alive and full fo profit. Red Bull, coffee, tobacco, caffeine-laden sodas, etc. are all sold as mood equalizers, essentially.

    We work too much, study too hard, and sleep too little in this material, achievement, and money-driven culture.

    Posted by Mary Jane, a resident of Professorville
    on May 31, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    How about we keep the school work IN THE SCHOOLS where the kids can get the one on one (that was a JOKE, of course) attention and instruction that they may need ...isn't that what the teachers are paid for ?????????? And let the kids have their freedom (viva USA) to explore and do what interest them in their free time........NO MORE STRESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by nancy, a resident of Los Altos Hills
    on Jun 2, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    I am closely related to 3 public school teachers who LOVED getting home early from work, but...

    We have an opportunity to help kids do better in school and maybe better in their personal lives. It's not a matter of just persuading them to get their homework done by 10, as suggested above by Resident. The research is telling us that biology is influencing our children's time-scheduling, not just personal choice.

    We are given some strong evidence that teenagers might be better off, going to school from 9 to 4, rather than 8 to 3. One gripe with this is that it makes after-school sports run too late. So how about moving after-school sports to before-school sports, so the kids don't have to use their brains too early. I'll bet that before-school sports is a good way to wake up the brain, anyway.

    The gripe that's harder to get around is that the later time is inconvenient for parents. This could be fixed with "sleep-halls" for kids whose parents can't handle the later time. Perhaps the strongest gripe will come from the teachers' unions, which will fight it tooth-and-nail because they like the early end time, regardless of the potential benefits for kids. That's way harder to deal with, even though there are way more kids than teachers.

    The research is quite credible and compelling, so I wish that we could try a pilot program for 5 years or so and see how it works out. (As long as it's not a Choice ("Lottery") School at one location.)

    Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Jun 2, 2007 at 7:28 pm


    I would re-echo my post from above. When I went to high school, we started at 8.50, or later on occasions. My friends and I all stayed in bed til the very last minute and all of us complained how tired we were. I didn't eat a proper breakfast because I wasn't hungry and then only snacked until lunch which was at 2.00. I still left my homework until too late (against my mother's advice) and was often working til past midnight (by flashlight so that my parents didn't know).

    A late starting time only makes a difference if it happens occasionally like the Thursday late start for the first semester at Paly.

    Posted by Sam, a resident of Midtown
    on Jun 3, 2007 at 8:43 am

    I think this is an embarassment. When are we going to stop fostering this coddling, nanny culture? How about this - go to bed earlier. Resident (above) hit the nail on the head. Its pretty sad that people are even contemplating a later start time. Maybe we should be preparing kids for the world they will face when they graduate and start careers.
    Here's my theory - this didn't used to be a problem, so what changed? Kids are probably wasting a lot of cumulative time sending text messages, IM's and browsing the internet. Now, I'm sure its only a few minutes here and there, but over a week, its hours. When I have my laptop around, I never get anything done - I'm always checking my email, looking at this site, etc. It adds up!

    Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Jun 3, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I am a sophomore at Palo Alto High School and I would just like to say that the problem is not that we don't want to sleep, we would LOVE to sleep, but WE CAN'T!. I play a sport right after school, and when it finishes I go straight home to do my homework and study for tests. I don't lollygag during the day, but I am a very dilligent worker. Nonetheless I don't get as much sleep as I want/need. The problem is not the hour that school starts, because if you start the school later, students will stay up later, its is THE WORK!!!!! I have at least one test every day and an ENORMOUS amount of homework. Every class gives there hour + of homework, and will give you something big to do unwarned because they don't respect that you have 6 other classes. No teacher is willing to give less tests, (and in some cases tests we are prepared for), and less homework. If teachers do those two things students will go to sleep at a normal hour. We all WANT DESPERATLEY to sleep, but its the work thats getting in our way!

    Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 3:31 am

    As a Junior at Paly, I would like to agree with the other students in the fact that we either need a later start time, lesser homework, or more time to do assignments. As you can see from the time I am posting this message (3:26 AM! and no, I'm not up for my own pleasure, I'm trying to finish an assignment for an AP class that I've been working on for weeks) students these days do not have enough time to get everything finished! I take 7 classes, and usually work during lunch. And after school, I always have an activity planned, then dinner with my family. Homework usually doesnt get started until about 7:30, and it usually takes hours. I dont think I have ever gotten to bed before 11:30 this year.

    Paly students are bombarded with stress from academics, peers, parents, and extracurriculars. The one time we have to relax is on the weekends, which are either spent doing schoolwork or catching up on sleep. A later start time would greatly benefit students by reducing stress, fatigue, and sickness (ive had a runny nose for the past 2 months- i havent been able to rest enough to get rid of illness).

    Parents should realize the fact that students work much harder than they did when they were in school, and have to deal with contemporary pressures as well, such as the highly competitive atmosphere. I would urge the Palo Alto community to think about how lack of sleep is negatively affecting students, rather than how it can "improve our life skills" in the long run.

    Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Paly Student

    Believe me, I do sympathise. The fact that you are getting to bed too late and have so much homework is part of the Palo Alto disease. You have a lot of classes, some of them APs. I am sure that you are not alone in the amount of pressure you are under and I wonder if this is your choosing or your parents? I think some of this lies with what class choices our students are being allowed to make.

    I read an article recently about stress which really helped me as a parent. The article defined pressure and stress very differently. Pressure is something we choose to put ourselves under by saying yes to so many things because we think we can fit them all in. As long as things go along as planned, pressure is something we can live with because it is our own doing. Stress is what happens when the pressures we have already chosen start going wrong for reasons we have no control over. In other words, our lives are full of pressures because we choose them to be so. Stress arises when we are late for an activity because we get held up in traffic, or when we can't do our work because of a computer malfunction, or when we get behind because we are sick with flu for a couple of days, or when an uninvited "must do" comes up and takes priority. For this reason, we must look at the various pressures we put in our lives and make sure that there is room for some stress release, a little extra time here and there, to make up for the times that stress occurrs. A few hours here and there through the week to make up for when we get behind because of stress. If in a given week everything goes well, then these stress releasing hours are bonus hours that we can use to do what we like for fun.

    This helped me, so I hope that it will be useful to others.

    Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Thanks, Paly students, for taking the time to share your views. As a parent, I would love to see the high schools start later, given the lack of adequate sleep most students are experiencing. Less homework and less stress on our students would be appreciated by all of us. Palo Alto schools are outstanding, but we need to allow students to have balance in their lives.

    Posted by AnotherParent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Palo Alto schools are outstanding because they keep (or attempt to keep) the students focused on the school work, offer AP courses - so that the interested students can gain more out of the school work i.e. are trying their level best to provide a higher-achieving level for the students.

    Less homework, later school start time - how is all that going to help with maintaining the 'outstanding' level of the schools?

    These kids, when they go to the college, they are better prepared for the college / study environment. They do not buckle under the pressure !

    Accept this as a building block for the college, learn to set priorities and face the challenge !

    Way to go Paly !

    Posted by tired of bickering, a resident of Crescent Park
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Dear AnotherParent -

    I agree that homework is an important part of high school. But if you ask the Paly and Gunn students what percentage of their homework helps them learn and what percentage is "for show" and totally unrelated to the academics, I think you would be surprised. (For example, building a model of a landmark for a language class, drawing pictures on flash cards, etc. )

    My guess is that by focusing the homework and projects on learning and elimnated "busy work" many teachers could reduce the time students spend on homework load by 25-50% without changing the amount that the students learned or lowering their grades.

    While it may prepare you for college - and I've heard lots of Paly and Gunn student say that college was easier then high school - should 13 year olds (which some of the freshman are) be subject to the same pressure as a 22 year old college student?

    Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Yes, I agree. It isn't "less homework" needed so much as "less busy work". Watching my sophomore build models ( in High School??), get graded on the ART WORK, not language results, he is required to add to his Spanish homework, etc is disheartening.

    AND...less IMing, e-mailing, internet cruising, would also be a start.

    AND...learning to prioritize how time is spent so that homework is done before play, so that sleep comes before play if s/he runs out of time..that would be useful too.

    AND..not believing that s/he must take EVERY AP/Honors class there is.

    Unfortunately, there is a very common belief now that anything less than a 3.5 GPA and "just" one extra-curricular activity condemns the student to a "bad" college. I wish we could adjust the attitude a bit.

    Isn't this what we all had to learn as teens also, though?

    Posted by AnotherParent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    I am pro use-your-time-wisely and not necessarily for reducing the homework. Its a tough world out of high school and if my child is going to get prepared for it during the high school time, I am all for it! When the children are off to college - not only do they have to make sure they don't buckle under the academic pressure - but they also have to put up with the social pressure ( living without the family being there ). Hey - when they are in high school, at least they are staying at home with parent(s) wanting to do everything they can to help out !

    When we grew up, I recall my mother commenting on the phone time ! I have fond memories of rushing home and getting on the phone to talk to my best friend, whom I had seen about 30 minutes ago ! The phone time is now replaced by IM, Email, Text and other communication methods. The point it - have fun / chat / socialize - but don' do it at the cost of the homework and school work !

    I would support - no homework on the weekend. Yes, the children need a break, they need to chill out ....

    Posted by Another mother here, a resident of Barron Park
    on Jun 4, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    The whole educational system could use a refresher.....For starters, I would suggest a starting time for students on the East Coast starting at a later hour than the kids here in California due to the weather conditions. I feel for the kids going to school in the dark and in the cold in the East. Just as I do for the kids here when I see them at the bus stops in the dark early morning hours..
    In the summer time, they have too much free time...why can't they have school year round and not have to struggle with stress and homework..spread it out...make the classes longer. That way they have time to do all the necessary studying IN CLASS at a better pace. Kids go to summer school anyway as most parents do not have babysitters to watch them during the summer months...........This way you are getting a more focused education, I believe. And when it comes time for the family vacation, MoM and Dad can plan on taking the kids out of school just like they are allotted their yearly vacations at their work places....

    Posted by Paly student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
    on Jun 5, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I know that others stay up into the wee hours of the morning, but I usually go to bed 11:30 at the very latest. I get 7+ hours of sleep a night and I am always exhausted during school.

    Posted by Alexa, a resident of another community
    on Jun 5, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    I never had enough sleep in high school and one of my prevailing memories of that time in my life is just how tired I always was (I graduated in 1999 from Los Gatos High School.) I regularly took long naps in the afternoon after I got home from school, sometimes sleeping through dinner which bugged my parents, but they understood why. Then I'd get up and do homework until after midnight and start the whole cycle over again. My first class in the morning started at 7:45. I had a full schedule of AP classes and you pay for a schedule like that because you have to take the earliest morning class offered to fit it all in. Many mornings it was pitch black when I woke up. It always seemed like starting even an hour later would have eased some of my exhaustion. Now having been through college and several years in the "real world" I can say I've never come close to that grueling schedule or the exhaustion I felt on a daily basis in high school. Making teenagers - with raging levels of dopamine and other sleep-inducing hormones in their bodies - wake up at the crack of dawn seems insane, looking back on it.

    Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Professorville
    on Jun 5, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Alexa - I'm curious, now that you are in the "real world" do you feel like you needed to take as many AP classes, study so hard and be sleep deprived, was it worth it? If you could go back to high school, would you make the same choices? Are you more successful as an adult?

    Posted by Alexa, a resident of another community
    on Jun 6, 2007 at 10:48 am

    I don't really know. I loved my college experience and wouldn't trade it for anything, and I don't know if I had taken a lighter load in HS if I would have been accepted there. More successful as an adult? Doubt it. It instilled a certain work ethic which has seen me through as much as anything else, but I don't think AP chemistry informs my life much at this point. And my peers who didn't go for the full schedules and the sleepness nights back in HS are doing great right now, as well as anyone else I know. But no one told me back then that you can go to community college, or not go to college, or put it off to try other things, and still make something of yourself. The message from all directions was the very opposite. No one said there are a thousand ways to be successful in life, and a thousand notions of what it even means to be successful. It would have been cool to hear someone say - No one can really tell you what will make you happy, you have to figure that one out on your own.

    Posted by Linda a homeschooling mom, a resident of Atherton
    on Jun 6, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    A suggestion for the school board: Why not simply shorten the school day by starting at 8:45AM and ending at the same time? This could be accomplished by shortening each class by ~10 minutes (and making very efficient use of class time). I spent some time in a German highschool (many years ago) and the class periods were much shorter (~40min) and the day shorter (~5hrs max including snack/lunch). I remember the attention level during all classes being very high as much work needed to be accomplished in a short period of time and it probably helped that students got a chance to stretch and move every 40 minutes. As a homeschooling family we have a lot of flexibility and no problem getting enough sleep but I feel sorry for the sleep deprived kids. It is a waste of the student's and teacher's time if the kids are too tired to be fully engaged in learning. If our priorities are the health and education of our children I think it is obvious that changes need to be made. I would like to know what students and teachers think about this suggestion since we homeschool and my children are not highschool age yet.

    Posted by ha ha, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Just threaten to form a charter school with later hours. It's all in providing a better education for our kids. I bet you can get what you want then.

    Posted by A. Grandma, a resident of Gunn High School
    on Jun 6, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    I really have sympathy for those tired high school students who are sleep deprived and forced to start school at 7:45 or 8:00 AM, just to accommodate the teachers' schedules. If I was a kid I'd fall asleep in class too. No wonder there are so many drop outs. If school started later say 9:00 AM the drop out rate would fall.

    In Europe they recognise the need for teenagers to sleep later in the morning. The teaching day starts at 9:00 AM and finishes at 4:00 PM. Most high schools have after school sports from 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM. Home for dinner and still time for 2 hours of homework.

    Posted by Jennifer, a resident of Midtown
    on Jun 10, 2007 at 11:36 am

    I would be thrilled to see later start times for high school students, it would be invaluable for my children, who are currently in middle school. Furthermore, I would be very angry if the whole after school-sports-lobby ended up standing in the way of a later start time. While I'm all for physical fitness, I think our culture is absurdly sports-obsessed.

    Posted by tired of bickering, a resident of College Terrace
    on Jun 10, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Jennifer - in the various places and time I've heard a later start time in HS discussed - PA and others - the only real objection I heard was that sports would be affected.

    Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
    on Jun 10, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    This is an interesting thread in many ways.

    It seems like given the wide diversity of high schools in the US and indeed the world there should be programs and data to look at that should provide some insight into how it plays out. Is student performance significantly better? Do students in fact get more sleep? Do their communities grip that school starts too late? A couple of data points are given above - any more out there? Or any studies?

    It also seems like something that a private school might try - "our schedules are based on the latest circadian rhythm research!" makes good brochure copy. With self-selecting families and non-unionized teachers, it would be much easier to implement. And the results, if compelling, would be clear to see.

    Absent some data points like the above, it seems pretty daunting to undertake in Palo Alto.


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