Move school start times an hour later

In a little more than two weeks, most Snohomish County middle school and high school students — or their parents — will begin setting alarms on their clocks and phones to wake up and get ready for school. Depending on morning routines, many will rise at 5 a.m. or earlier so that they can get to school when the first bell rings as early as 7 a.m.

And unless these teenagers are going to bed before 9 p.m., they’re not getting the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Paediatrics recommend that students get on school nights.

They’re not alone. The CDC in a recent analysis of 2011-12 school year data found that fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools start classes at 8:30 a.m. or later. For most districts in the county, high schoolers are starting their day between 7:05 and 7:30 a.m. The first bell for most middle schoolers rings between 8 and 8:35 a.m. The day for most elementary school students, at least, starts at 8:30 a.m. or even 9:20 a.m.

You can tell yourself that you get by fine on six hours of sleep or less. Your kids can’t get by on that.

Without adequate sleep, the CDC and the pediatricians group say, children between 11 and 18, are more likely to:

  • Be overweight;
  • Not engage in daily physical activity;
  • Suffer from symptoms of depression;
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors including drinking, smoking and using illicit drugs; and
  • Perform poorly in school.

A substantial body of evidence, the pediatricians say, shows that at least 8.5 hours of sleep on a regular basis can improve physical and mental health, academic performance, safety and quality of life for children.

One obvious solution would be to start school later in the day, even by an hour. Admittedly, that’s not an easy switch for parents and school districts to make. The last time the Everett School District considered changing its start time for its high schools in 2013, it was to begin the day even earlier at 7:10 a.m., a move that was proposed to save the district money on transportation. The district, thankfully, decided against the earlier start time. Marysville School District considered a later start time in 2009, but decided against the change.

Some parents and students object to the later start times, saying it interferes with after-school sports practices and jobs and child care for younger siblings. And it can increase transportation costs for school districts as they rework bus schedules for all students.

But giving students the advantages of better sleep would be one more piece of the puzzle as we work on other changes to make our schools better by reforming K-12 education funding and settling on testing that better directs students’ education.

In the meantime, parents and students can do more on their end:

  • Set regular times to go to bed and get up, including on the weekends.
  • Dim lighting in the evening, including shading the lights from electronics.
  • Set and stick to a “media curfew,” curbing use of computers, video games and smartphones a couple of hours before bed. Recent studies have shown that the light and “pings” from computers and phones can interfere with sleep patterns.

And adults, who really should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, should be modeling these behaviors for their kids.

In other words, you can catch “The Tonight Show” later on Hulu and get some sleep.

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