No one can argue that sleep is important. While we snooze, our bodies are very busy repairing muscles, consolidating memory and releasing needed hormones. If we don't get enough sleep, we experience an impaired ability to concentrate and make decisions.
Teenagers need between 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night according to the Centers for Disease Control. The pattern of teen sleep is also a factor because the biological clock of an adolescent shifts so that they are more awake late at night (just as we parents are falling asleep!) and more tired in the morning.
Of course the average high school schedule does not help the teen sleep cycle. Some high schools begin classes at 7 am and nearly all high schools begin by 8 am. I cam across an interesting phenomenon going on in Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Several years ago, the high school start time was changed from 7:25 am to 8:30 am. 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.
Since this increase can not be attributed to any other variable, it appears that simply adjusting to a teenager's natural circadia rhythms may result in better learning.
Eureka! One simple change and our students are better prepared to learn.
For years I've heard about the numerous obstacles to starting our schools later in the morning (athletic practices and games would be impacted, teachers and students would be on the road during rush hour traffic, more buses may be needed to start all schools at the same time, etc.), but let's not lose sight of the fact that the purpose of school is to educate children. If we have compelling evidence that shifting start times by one hour will result in better learners, shouldn't we pay attention?
For more compelling evidence, check out this NY Magazine article, Snooze or Lose. I also like this interview with Mary Carskadon.