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Poll: Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

Millburn High Students sign national petition, cite school day as a cause of sleep deprivation.

Updated Jan. 12 to reflect increased number of signatures.

In the last few days, more than 200 students and parents  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. A handful of students in neighboring districts of South Orange-Maplewood, West Orange 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 nearly half 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 said she was surprised to see so many students from Millburn and Short Hills on it. The school day at Millburn High School officially begins at 7:45 a.m.

“We got 100 signatures on it today, in fact,” said Snider, a mother in Severna Park, Md., who 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.”

The issue has come up several times in meetings with the Millburn Board of Education, often by board president who has said he would like to see the start time pushed back for high school students.

“High school kids start too early,” he repeated at the last board retreat, when he was trying to push for a later start time this year.

The issue is one that the board has suggested be addressed in the strategic plan.

Some of the students from Millburn and Short Hills also left comments on the online petition.

Jonas Singer, a swimmer and junior at MHS wrote on the petition: "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.

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, and many from Millburn and Short Hills agree with that.

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.

Caitlin Mazzola in Fairfield, Conn., contributed to this report.

J S Beckerman January 09, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Where do I sign?
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 09, 2012 at 11:50 AM
To sign the petition go to http://signon.org/sign/promote-legislation-to.fb1?source=s.fb&r_by=1521139
Laura Griffin January 09, 2012 at 12:19 PM
The link wasn't activated earlier. It is now. And I put another one at the bottom of the story.
lisa January 09, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Sorry to be a naysayer... perhaps its not the early school start that is making kids tired, but rather too much homework keeping them up late.
Heather Macintosh January 09, 2012 at 12:58 PM
It's important to hear from the students! The athlete in the article is telling us that he needs more sleep to thrive in his sport - yet often the argument for these crazy-early school start times is that the sports teams need the practice time. It's time to start listening to the kids!
Susan1 January 09, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I agree with Lisa; it's not the start time, it's the END time, as in when they finish their homework. How about some curriculum reform? We can focus more on skills and less on memorizing massive quantities of information.
Heather Macintosh January 09, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Lisa, The homework issue is separate but significant. Because teenagers'circadian rhythms prevent them from falling asleep much before 11pm, early start times equal sleep deprivation whether they're doing homework or just staring at the ceiling waiting to fall asleep. The issue of too much homework is one of the priorities of the "Race to Nowhere" group. They're on Facebook.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 09, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Lisa & Susan1, your doubts are understandable and obviously early start times are not the only factor in teen sleep deprivation. However, if you look at the many studies on this subject, including studies of school systems that have managed to start a bit later, you'll find that early start times do play a major role. In fact, when schools start later, kids get more sleep (no, they don't go to bed later), and, as a result, they get more done in the time they have. The bottom line is that the absurdly early hours at which US high schools start (a trend that began about 30 years ago, mainly to save money on bus runs) has been shown to be both dangerous and counterproductive, and, unlike some of the other causes of teen sleep deprivation, it can be remedied if a community has the will to do so. If you're still skeptical, check out the resources at schoolstarttime.org.
lisa January 09, 2012 at 01:34 PM
I have seen Race to Nowhere, and I agree that kids aren't getting enough sleep. But please, roll the clock back to when you were in high school. Were you sleep deprived? I used to get in early for activities, but I also had a much more reasonable homework and activity schedule. I'm not a doctor and don't know about circadian rhythms.. but I am a mom and I know that when my kids are stressed over homework and tests and when they are wound up from activities that have run late, they cannot sleep. Maybe if we reduce the stress loads, and let them unwind before they go to sleep rather than run, run, run until they collapse perhaps their bodies would allow them to relax and fall asleep sooner. I'm just saying... I think there is a bigger root cause than early start times. We all managed to get thru high school early hours just fine!
Miller Guy January 09, 2012 at 02:39 PM
It is about time this issue is being addressed. Our children should not have to get up that early. In the 70's we had a start time of 8:10 which is much more reasonable. School ended at 3:10 (I believe) and sports practices started at 3:30. Those times would be much better for our children.
Maribel Ibrahim January 09, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Thanks for posting all these comments everyone. I can agree with Lisa that School Start Times are not the only issue at hand here. However, it is one of the issues that continues to be sidestepped and ignored. The sleep needs of our children have been sacrificed for cost and convenience and that has to end. When I went to high school, we started at 8:30 and I caught the bus at 7:45am. (I lived in the city and used public transportation). I participated in the debate team, which had a rigorous afterschool practice schedule and homework. (Our debate team were New Jersey State Champions for many consecutive years). But I was still able to sleep and not have to worry about getting up at the crack of dawn just to get to school. I also agree that homework and course curricula need to be looked at, but School Start Times is an issue that can be remedied and will lead to improvements in school performance, less depression among students, improved athletic performance, less teen driver accidents and more. There is more information to be found at www.StartSchoolLater.net
Susan1 January 09, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I'll vote for anything that will help my poor kids get through the day better than they do now. Thanks for getting this going!
Aliza Silverman January 09, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Being a student at millburn high school, I agree that sleep deprivation is an issue. The one problem with this idea, though, is that school would end later, thus after school clubs and sports would end later, and student would stay up later doing homework. What's really needed are specific time limits on how much homework a teacher can give in one night. With that, students would go to bed earlier, and the early wake-up time would not be a problem.
LDA January 10, 2012 at 01:40 AM
What about the time they go to sleep because of USELESS INTERNET / FACEBOOK...whatever time wasted??? Don't take me wrong, taking the bus @ 7...AM its brutal, BUT PLEASE let's not pretend "our LITTLE angels" spend ALL their time working and therefore no sleep!!!!
MillerTime January 10, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Circadian rhythms? Really? No, really? Do these rhythms no what time zone you are in? Good grief.
Cubby January 10, 2012 at 02:39 AM
LDA: What makes you think Internet use, Facebook, etc. is a waste of time? Do you expect kids to do hours and hours of homework with no breaks? This is how they communicate with eachother. When was the last time that you spent 7 hours in school and then 4-5 hours of homework on top of that? I would definitely vote for a later start itime, but I am also certain he real culprit is the homework load and overscheduling.
20yearmiller January 10, 2012 at 01:17 PM
This is not a new issue in Millburn. Parents have been vocal about it off and on for years. I remember my kids (they played sports) getting home from a game or practice in the late evening, eating dinner as fast as they could, then hitting the books till 1 or 2AM, up early with 5 hours of sleep to repeat the process. Just brutal. The argument shot back to us from the administration was always the same. They contend that MHS students perform better due to the rigorous schedule. Higher SATs, higher GPA, top school rankings, a leader in AP classes, good colleges for most. In other words the tough, sleep deprived schedule that crams as much info into their heads as possible is the reason our school performs so well. My kids get more sleep in college than they did in HS. Over the top? Yes, I've always thought that to be the case. The new super might think differently, the old one certainly didn't. For those of you thinking about making this an issue please keep in mind the administration will most likely shove the HS rankings in your face and claim the rigor and lack of sleep is what makes it happen. If your child doesn't play sports, doesn't take AP classes, doesn't get involved in clubs, and takes only lower level classes he/she might get a decent amount of sleep. The down side is they probably won't do well on their SATs and won't get into a "good" college. It's going to be a tough road getting them to change their approach. Good luck.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 10, 2012 at 01:29 PM
20yearmiller--Your comments sound so much like my own experience here in Maryland (my "kids" are 24, 21, and 17) - and this is PRECISELY why I finally realized that this was a national issue and started the petition: the politics & myths are the same all over the country. It's too late for my kids, but given the state of the research, it seems negligent not to work for change before we subject yet another generation to these absurd hours. And given the state of social media, it may finally be possible to do that by uniting the many communities who've been battling (futilely) for change for decades now.
Maribel Ibrahim January 11, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Millersman, I can sympathize with your comment. However, this issue is not as cut and dry as one would believe. Saddling kids with the responsibility of getting up earlier and “encouraging responsibility” is a misconception when considering that teenage brain and bodies are still growing and require 9 hours of sleep.  Teenagers, especially, are not biologically designed to perform well with less sleep.  Allowing teenagers to function while sleep deprived is comparable to giving a drunk driver keys to his car. 
M OKeef January 11, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I have no objection to changing the start time but logically if your child is still trying to cram the same number of things into a 24 hour period, changing the school start time will change the schedule but it won't give them more time in the day. If your student is only getting 4/5 hours sleep they are doing too much. The only way to free up time is to cut out some of those activities. Learning to prioritize is a great skill for high school students to learn.
Maribel Ibrahim January 11, 2012 at 10:14 PM
M OKeef, You are so correct that prioritizing activities is very important for future success. However, a delay in school start times actually allows students to sleep longer. Most people assume that if we start school later, students will just go to bed later. This common misconception has not come to pass in studies of students who have had their schools shift to later start times. Three studies, conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2009, found that students got more sleep because they went to bed at or near the same time each night and were able to rise later with the later school start times. Full citations and a discussion of this topic are available at http://schoolstarttime.org/delaying-school-start-times/will-students-squander-opportunity-extra-sleep/. The landmark Wahlstrom reference study also cites similar findings from the earliest study of later school start times.
John O'Neil January 12, 2012 at 03:52 PM
A number of studies have shown that in high schools that switched to late openings, test scores went up and disciplinary infractions went down. This isn't about coddling teenagers, it's about making the logistics of school mesh with the reality of their stage of development. Ask any pediatrician who should go to school first, elementary age kids or teenagers, and I guarantee that you'll hear that it should be the reverse of what we do. My understanding is that the big hurdle is sports, both in terms of afterschool daylight and meshing with the schedules of other schools. I think it would be great if the school board were to put together a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and local pediatricians to investigate the ins and outs of this so we could make a decision based on something more than inertia and inconvenience.
Aliza Silverman January 13, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I just wanted to add to this that I agree with starting school slightly later, for generally I do finish homework a the same time each night no matter what time I get home and how much time I have to work on it. However, I originally meant that by going to sleep earlier the early start times would not affect students as much
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 13, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Thank you, Millburn & Short Hills, and especially Aliza (I'm assuming it's the same Aliza), whose signature just brought us to 2,500 names - halfway to the 5,000 we need to take this to DC. As for Aliza's concern (above) about going to bed later with later start times, the good news is that there are now several excellent studies of schools that moved back their start times, and without fail the students end up getting MORE sleep per night. It turns out, I suppose, that if you get more sleep you can do things more efficiently - not a surprise. Then, too, because teen body clocks (in general) are just not set to go to sleep before about 11 p.m. no matter what, they're going to be up past then no matter what time in the morning they have to get up. Thus, starting a bit later in the morning is only going to help....Anyway, thanks again for supporting the national petition, and we're rooting for your local efforts to change this!
Laura Griffin January 13, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Terra, looks like your movement has definitely struck a chord here!
MrJones January 14, 2012 at 05:56 PM
"...take this to DC". Wait.. what? What's DC got to do with a local board of ed decision? On the topic in general, I think some kids get coddled too much. I always sent my kids to school with a thermos of coffee each. It raised a few eyebrows in kindergarden, but it's paid off. They're all successful hedge fund managers now.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. January 14, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Love your solution, MrJones, clearly better that setting basic standards of child protection! Quite seriously, though, what DC has to do with it is that local efforts for evidence-based school hours often fail because of entrenched interests that override the best interests of kids. The idea of the petition is to raise national awareness of the issue and help promote legislation (on whatever level - national, state, or county/city) that will make it easier for local schools to prioritize health & learning when they set their hours. Right now, sadly, that just isn't happening, and establishing a rock-bottom (hardly radical) lowest time for schools to start is a way to make sure we don't subject yet another generation to your coffee solution, however effective you may have found it to be!
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. February 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Update: We're delivering this petition (http://bit.ly/tWa4dS) to members of Congress, including those representing Millburn and Short Hills, 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!

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