Posted by: Ed Darrell | February 4, 2008

Let’s sleep on it (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .)

Sleep disorders plague more people than we count.

Here is a link to the news story we used in class, from the American Psychological Association, about sleep difficulties for high school students: “Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health.”

True to its nature as a newspaper of public record, the New York Times features several stories on the issue of sleep, most recently an editorial on February 1, urging more attention be paid to sleep deprivation among teenagers.

The obvious remedy would be for high schools to start later — well after 8 a.m. A handful of schools that have switched have reported beneficial results. School officials in Minneapolis say that attendance improved and students’ grades rose slightly after they changed to an 8:40 a.m. start several years ago. In Wilton, Conn., where the high school start time was pushed back to 8:20 a.m. from 7:35, teachers and parents reported improved student behavior and greater alertness. Surveys of students in both districts indicated that they did not use the later starts as an excuse to go to bed later.

The editorial was prompted by a January opposite-editorial-page opinion piece on getting more sleep, that noted these facts:

In 2002, high schools in Jessamine County in Kentucky pushed back the first bell to 8:40 a.m., from 7:30 a.m. Attendance immediately went up, as did scores on standardized tests, which have continued to rise each year. Districts in Virginia and Connecticut have achieved similar success. In Minneapolis and Edina, Minn., which instituted high school start times of 8:40 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. respectively in 1997, students’ grades rose slightly and lateness, behavioral problems and dropout rates decreased.

The Times is serious about the issue. Here is their health columnist, Jane Brody, talking about sleep deprivation last October. And see the full, special Science Section devoted to sleep.

Update: See especially this column from the Wall Street Journal about the dangers of sleepy drivers:

Even without actually falling asleep, drivers can go for miles in what some experts call “highway hypnosis,” with their reflexes slowed and their judgment impaired. And it doesn’t take much to reach that state. Averaging four hours of sleep for five nights builds the same level of cognitive impairment as being awake for 24 hours — the equivalent of legal drunkenness, says Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. Having one beer in that condition, he notes, has the impact of a six pack.

Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, depression and obesity, which leads to obstructive sleep apnea, which causes even more sleep deprivation, according to the Institute of Medicine.

What do you think? Would more sleep help your grades?

Let’s sleep on it.

(Comments are open — please comment.)

Other resources:


  1. […] Boost test performance: Start later Students perform better when schools adjust schedules to accommodate the realities of biology:  High school students don’t learn or test well in the morning.  Go here for an introductory discussion of the issues. […]

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