This fall there have been several items in the print media and on television about the benefits of late starts for schools. The late start refers to the time of day when classes start. While there is great variation as to when schools start, many begin between 7:15 a.m. and 8 a.m. Some of those proposing late starts would like the school time to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The advocates of the later start cite studies that show that an adolescent's natural time to fall asleep may be around 11 p.m. or later. Thus getting up early enough to get to school by 8 a.m. does not allow for what is needed to avoid sleep deprivation. Sleep time for adolescents is thought to be 9 to 10 hours with anything less causing sleep deprivation.
Melatonin is the "sleep" hormone. Some researchers have measured the amount and timing of melatonin being secreted in individuals. It seems that teens begin secreting melatonin later in the evening as they mature and that the secretion slows down later in the morning. So high school students are still in the sleep zone when they are supposed to be at school.
Now for the comments coming from "Back in my day " As most of you readers of this column may remember, I am a city-boy. No I did not have to get up to walk uphill three miles to get to school and uphill three miles to get home in snow that was at least two feet deep. However, for time to get to school, we did have to take city transportation which meant one bus to get us part way there, then transfer to a different bus to get the second leg in, plus a few more blocks to walk after getting off the second bus. I don't remember falling asleep on either bus or on the walk to the school.
As for sleeping in school, I remember only one class where I had difficulty. It was Miss Hultman's literature class. We often read out loud with Miss Hultman indicating who was the next to read. Of course after reading a few paragraphs and the next person to read had been called out, I generally felt safe in relaxing a bit counting on not being called again to read. I had a large chemistry book that I stood on end and put my arm on that and my head on my arm looking to the side at the book we were reading which happened to be Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities." I probably made a little show of following along by turning a page now and then, but once I dozed a little too much. The chemistry book fell from my desk and landed flat on the floor with a very loud bang and my head hit the desk. More than a few classmates jumped at the sound.
Despite that episode, I believe I learned at least a little appreciation of literature. The Book Club to which I belong happens to be rereading "Tale of Two Cities" this month!
One of Miss Hultman's favorite poets was Walt Whitman. I can hear her voice in my head even now, saying, "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear" If you read that line over a couple of times right now, I think you will hear the singing of the words in that composition from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."
The advocates of starting later say that teens become more alert later in the day so those early morning classes should not happen, instead starting later so that the students are more alert when taking their classes. Now what are the implications of the later start? One might be that afternoon sports might have to be abandoned or placed as early evening sports. Afternoon jobs may need to become evening jobs. Another alternative might be to shorten the length of the school day, but increase the number of days in the year in which school is in session.
By now you may have thought that a remedy for this problem is that an earlier bed-time would fix the problem and we wouldn't have to debate going to a later start. It seems there is evidence to suggest that excluding light in the evening will cause the body to readjust itself to earlier bed-times and early rising. Ben Franklin's "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," is familiar to most people. From an earlier time more than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle put forth that, "It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom."
If you like that message, an even shorter statement gives the same message: "The early bird gets the worm."
One final bit of research is that the most alert times for teens now seems to be 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. If we really wanted teens to get the most from school, maybe we should have sports during the daylight hours and then send the kids off to school in the evening.
Furthermore, if the late start is that beneficial and evening school is not practical, there is one thing that might help just a little bit that would have teens in class a little later on at least one day of the week. Instead of having an early dismissal for teachers' meetings, the teachers' meetings could be held in the early morning and school could start a little later, yet end at the normal time.
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!