Our Northwest

New poll: Northwest teens sleep too little

Wednesday, September 17, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Do teenage students get enough sleep? Our new PEMCO Poll reveals 74% of Northwest residents think the answer is “no.”
   Yet 52% think high school classes generally start at the right time, and just 26% think school starts too early.
   Only 11% of those polled know that nine hours is the right amount of sleep for teenagers, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
   When I first saw the results, I perceived a disconnect between the 74% and 52%. I figured more would say school starts too early. In 2012, 43% of U.S. public high schools started before 8 a.m. according to the AAP.
   In Washington and Oregon, many high schools start between 7 and 8 a.m., but extracurricular activities and electives can start even earlier. That means some students are up and out the front door by 6 a.m.
   In my mind, that should have prompted more people to say school starts too early. In recent years I’ve seen my neighbor’s car drive off at around 6:00 on weekday mornings. For months I assumed it was the dad headed to Boeing. Nope. It was the daughter leaving for Redmond High.
   Perhaps many think the sleep-deprivation problem lies on the other end of the equation – teenagers’ bed times. For them the solution is simply, "Go to bed earlier."
   However, studies show that adolescents are wired to feel alert in the evening, despite having been awake many hours. The AAP says hormones (specifically, sluggish melatonin production) don’t allow teens to get sleepy until 11 p.m.
   Last month, the AAP publicly asked America’s middle and high schools to delay start times from 30 to 60 minutes so students can get more sleep. It cited studies showing 87% of high school students sleep less than nine hours each night, and on average high school seniors sleep less than seven hours.
   The result: students fall asleep in class, fall asleep doing homework, and drive while drowsy.
   For what it’s worth, in my high school days, first period started at 8:00. I woke each weekday at 7:00, showered, gobbled cold cereal, and made it to class on time. That felt reasonable. I dreaded ski school, when the alarm went off at 5:00 to get us on a 6:00 a.m. bus.
   The Seattle School Board is studying the feasibility of later start times for teens. A decision on whether and how to shift start times for the 2016-17 school year will be brought to the Board in October 2015.

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