Here’s a real eye-opener: When high school classes start too early – like 7:20 a.m. - teens are more likely to crash their cars! Robert Voroona is a sleep doctor at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He compared side-by-side school districts in Virginia: Chesapeake, where high school classes begin at 8:40 a.m. – and Virginia Beach, where classes start at 7:20 a.m. The result? Teens in early-start-time classes had 40% more car crashes on the way to school. It’s no wonder. A study in Scandinavia found that sleep-deprived volunteers had reaction times much slower than someone who was legally drunk!
Other studies show that students who start classes later get better grades, get along better with their peers, and are better able to control their emotions. They’re also less likely to suffer from depression, take drugs, or consider suicide. Some experts say that a later start time simply gives teens an excuse to stay up later, but researchers found that teens really do get more sleep when school starts later. They found that around puberty, a teen’s circadian rhythms shift, and their brain doesn’t get “sleep signals” until after 11:00 pm. It doesn’t matter how tired they are, or what time they got up that morning. In fact, numerous teens said they tried to go to bed earlier, but they’d just lie there, staring at the ceiling until about 11 o’clock, when they’d suddenly fall asleep. So, until your local high school pushes back their start time – what can you do to protect your teens?
- Encourage them to catch up on sleep when they can. Say, by taking an afternoon nap.
- Have them turn off their computers and phones by 10 pm so they can start winding down for sleep.
- Finally, if they’re sleep-deprived, don’t let them drive to school. They may hate taking the bus – or having mom or dad drive them, but at least they’ll get there without hurting themselves – or anyone else.