Seattle School Board to consider later start time for students

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 HealthLink

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KING5.com

Posted on March 4, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 4 at 9:11 PM

Morning comes way too early for many of us, but even more so for a teenager's biological clock.
 
This weekend at their retreat, the Seattle School Board will consider whether high schools should move to a later start time. The proposal is controversial, but from a strictly scientific point of view, more evidence is building that the idea makes sense.

That alarm clock may say it's time to wake up, but teens are in a completely different time zone.
 
“It's the equivalent of asking an adult to do their job at 2:00 a.m.,” said Dr. Maida Chen with Seattle Children’s.
 
You heard right – 2 a.m.
 
“We would never expect us, those of us who maintain normal working hours, to do our job at 2 a.m. and to do it well, yet we demand that of our teenagers right now and it's no wonder that their function is being compromised,” said Dr. Chen.
 
"First period is always the hardest period of the day. I feel like I'm thinking through a fog a lot of the times,” said one student. “It’s very difficult."
 
Dr. Maida Chen says a constant diet of light-emitting devices doesn't help.
 
"All those things work against the circadian rhythm of allowing them to go to sleep at an earlier time, so they're up against a whole different set of challenges that we didn't face a generation ago,” said Dr. Chen.
 
A study at a New England boarding school showed that delaying start times by just a half hour made a significant difference to teens.

"They were less tired during class, they were taking less naps. They were using less caffeine and they were reporting less depression,” said Julie Boegers, PhD, study author.
 
But what about younger children?  Dr. Chen says we're not doing them any favors either with the current school day.
 
"We know that our peak performance usually occurs within two hours of when we wake up in the morning and most younger children are biologically programmed to wake up between 6 and 7 a.m.,” said Dr. Chen.
 
She admits that change won't be easy, but maintains it's necessary.
 
“This is a public health problem more than anything else and the school board really has the power to be able to change that,” said Dr. Chen.

Parents can sign an online petition urging the school board to make the change. However, plenty of families, especially those with younger children, are opposed. Only one high school in the district, Nathan Hale, currently has a later start time, but had to give up bus transportation to do it.

Related links:

Petition for later start times for secondary students in Seattle


 

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