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Poll: Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

Students sign national petition to start school after 8 a.m.

In the last few days, a handful of West Orange students have signed a national petition to get the government to mandate that the school day start later.

The petition is part of a national campaign to provide teenagers with more time for sleep, based on studies showing that high school students are seriously sleep deprived. More than 150 students from Millburn and a handful of students in neighboring districts of South Orange-Maplewood and Livingston also signed the petition.

The petition seeking to promote legislation to prohibit public schools from starting the school day before 8 a.m. has garnered more than 2,100 of the 5,000 signatures needed before it can be brought before Congress, the Senate and President Barack Obama.

"When we reach 5,000, we will be hand-delivering this petition to select members of Congress and the White House administration," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, with Start School Later, a group of parents, medical professionals and caregivers circulating the petition.

Snider, a mother in Severna Park, Md., has been working on the issue for 10 years since she saw how sleep-deprived her own children were becoming in school.

"It's basically too late for my kids – my son is a junior in high school, but my daughters are already in their 20s," Snider said. "We've already seen several cases where the national push is breathing new life into local efforts and may, in fact, be the only way for local systems ever to change."

Some of the students left comments on the online petition.

From a senior swimmer at Millburn High School: "Many students in my graduating class (2013) get as little as 4 hours of sleep a night. This is well below the CDC recommendation of a minimum of 8.5 hours. School seems to be the main reason for our sleep deprivation. I would like to see later mornings so every student can keep a healthy lifestyle while getting a first rate education. As an athlete, sleep is extremely important for my performance. Being able to sleep in, would allow me to stay more alert in school, on the road, and in the swimming pool."

Another student said a later start time would cut down on depression, mood swings and the use of stimulants by some students to stay awake.

The school day at West Orange High School officially begins at 7:40 a.m., according to the district website. The middle schools begin at 8:10 a.m. and the elementary schools at 8:35 a.m.

While the petition calls for a start time no earlier than 8 a.m., Snider and many in the movement think that 8:30 a.m. or later would be better.

Wrote one mom: "I completely agree that school start times before 8 a.m. are inhumane and affect children negatively. I watch my three daughters walk to the school bus every morning at 6:57 a.m. in the dark, like zombies with bloodshot eyes still too tired to even speak. There is no reason schools should do this to children! Please change the school start times to after 8 a.m. My three kids spend the entire weekends sleeping to try to catch up from sleep deprivation during the week."

The case of more sleep for teenage students

According to the Sleep Foundation, only 14 percent of teenagers get the recommended nine hours of sleep on a school night. Start School Later points to several studies that address the need for sleep in adolescents.

  • A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that because of their natural body rhythms, teens have trouble falling asleep before 11 at night and so waking up to get to school seven hours later prohibits teens from getting enough sleep.
  • New York Magazine reported the findings of sleep expert Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University, who said, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development.”
  • Teens who get more sleep are more alert in the morning and therefore less likely to be involved in car accidents, the leading cause of death among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To view or sign the petition, click here.

in Fairfield, Conn., contributed to this report.

Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 11, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Here's a fascinating article that just appeared today about how early and late school start times affect the mind: http://sleepingresources.com/how-early-and-late-school-start-times-affect-the-mind/ . Meanwhile, thanks so much for your support in this initiative. We currently have over 2,350 names on the petition ( http://bit.ly/tWa4dS ), with many coming in over the past few days from parents, teachers, students, and health professionals in the West Orange area, as well as from pediatric sleep specialists all over the country. You can check out their comments by clicking the link to the petition.
Lisa Lionheart January 11, 2012 at 02:47 PM
what? this is ridiculous. if kids need more sleep maybe they should go to bed earlier.
Maribel Ibrahim January 11, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Lisa, Certainly, parents and students are responsible for instituting a good bedtime routine by eliminating distractions, such as TV, cell phones and computers.  However, sleep research shows that teenagers do not produce enough melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep, until 11pm.  Teenagers require 8.5 – 9.25 hours of sleep, which is more than adults require.  For a teenager to get enough sleep for a 7:00am start or a 5:30am wake up call, she would have to be in bed by 8:30pm.  This is counter to the natural, biological makeup of most high school students. 
Heather Macintosh January 11, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Lisa, I bet the students and their parents never thought of that.
Lisa Lionheart January 11, 2012 at 07:57 PM
thumbs up Heather! :-)
Cynthia Cumming January 11, 2012 at 09:28 PM
I can tell you that the reason the high schoolers start early here in West Orange. HS, Middle School and Elementary school use the same buses to get to school. The decision was made to have high school start earlier because parents of elementary schoolers have to put them in programs, or can drop them to school and make it to work on time. Also,the high schoolers are frequently needed to watch their younger siblings, and participate in many after school activities, such as clubs and sports.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 11, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Thanks, Cynthia. Those are actually the very same reasons we've been told they start (and can never change) our 7:17 a.m. start time here in Anne Arundel County, MD. They also turn out to be the same reason schools defend early hours all over the country. Still, if you look at the voluminous literature (check schoolstarttime.org for more than you ever want to know), you'll discover that every single one of these barriers can and has been overcome, once communities decide that health & learning are top priorities. Still, I'm glad you brought up these factors because it is these very kinds of objections that underlie the complex politics of changing start times at the local level, and why I eventually came to the conclusion that the only solution may lie in collective action on a national scale. Harvard's Nicholas A, Costakis and Erika Costakis make the very same case in their Time Idea's article (Why are We Depriving Our Children of Sleep? http://ti.me/v4ZM4f ). Both have signed our national petition ( http://bit.ly/tWa4dS ), and I hope the many people who voted "yes" in the poll above will join them. Thanks! Another great research about myths and misconceptions that are blocking change is at Fairfax County, VA's SLEEP website: http://www.sleepinfairfax.org/faq.htm
Cynthia Cumming January 11, 2012 at 11:39 PM
LOL, if my freshman and senior had their way, they'd be sleeping longer in the morning too!
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. February 20, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Update: We're delivering this petition (http://bit.ly/tWa4dS) to members of Congress, including those representing West Orange, on March 6-8 if we get to goal of 5000 names by then. Right now we're at 3600, so please keep signing and sharing the link if you're tired of waiting for schools to "wake up" to the idea that it's time to put health and learning first. Meanwhile, thanks for all your support!
Maribel Ibrahim March 06, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Only 185 more signatures to help #startschoollater Please sign our petition if you haven't done so already! http://t.co/3f9MSCnP More sleep = better health & more safety!

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