"According to surveys by the National Sleep Foundation, 90 percent of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep. The kids themselves say otherwise.
In those same surveys, 60 percent of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness. In another study, a quarter admit their grades have dropped because of it. Over 25 percent fall asleep in class at least once a week.
The raw numbers more than back them up. Half of all adolescents get less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights. By the time they are seniors in high school, according to studies by the University of Kentucky, they average only slightly more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Only 5 percent of high-school seniors average eight hours. Sure, we remember being tired when we went to school. But not like today’s kids.
Using newly developed technological and statistical tools, sleep scientists have recently been able to isolate and measure the impact of this single lost hour. Because children’s brains are a work-in-progress until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn’t have on adults.
The surprise is how much sleep affects academic performance and emotional stability, as well as phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure: damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover. It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen—moodiness, depression, and even binge eating—are actually symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.
A different mechanism causes children to be inattentive in class. Sleep loss debilitates our body’s ability to extract glucose from the bloodstream. Without this stream of basic energy, one part of the brain suffers more than the rest: the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for what’s called “executive function.” Among these executive functions are the orchestration of thoughts to fulfill a goal, the prediction of outcomes, and perceiving consequences of actions. So tired people have difficulty with impulse control, and their abstract goals like studying take a back seat to more entertaining diversions. A tired brain perseverates—it gets stuck on a wrong answer and can’t come up with a more creative solution, repeatedly returning to the same answer it already knows is erroneous.
Convinced by the mountain of studies, a handful of school districts around the nation are starting school later in the morning. The best known of these is in Edina, Minnesota, an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where the high school start time was changed from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30. The results were startling. In the year preceding the time change, math and verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of Edina’s students averaged 1288. A year later, the top 10 percent averaged 1500, an increase that couldn’t be attributed to any other variable. “Truly flabbergasting,” said Brian O’Reilly, the College Board’s executive director for SAT Program Relations, on hearing the results.
Another trailblazing school district is Lexington, Kentucky’s, which also moved its start time an hour later. After the time change, teenage car accidents in Lexington were down 16 percent. The rest of the state showed a 9 percent rise."
This is just the latest of many articles to be published about the topic of children, teenagers, sleep and school performance, and how sleep deprivation adversely affects our children. Additionally, as I sat in on a brief portion of today's Psychology Club , College of Staten Island Professor Pat Brooks was having a discussion with our high school students about how increased sleep will help students perform better on their upcoming PSATs as well as in class and on other tests.