Sunday, March 16, 2014

Teenagers Can't Get Up Early?

I hear that statement bandied around quite a bit, that teenagers are naturally wired to sleep later and wake up later.  It doesn't make evolutionary sense to me, though, so I keep asking "why?"  Obviously this comes up whenever a later start time for school is brought up.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the argument.  On long breaks away from school my natural sleeping time is 2am-10am.  What's odd is that that time holds no matter what time zone I'm in or whether it's Standard Time (Christmas break) or Daylight Savings Time (summer break).  However, I wonder if teens in other parts of the world experience this "sleeping later" phenomenon, or if they experienced it before we invented adolescence early last century.  How does the army, which has lots of teenagers, deal with this when, for those of us old enough to remember, the army does "more before 9 am than most people do all day".

I'm just curious if this is pop psychology with the veneer of science or if it's real--and if it's real, how is it dealt with in other cultures.

The argument was successful in Houston:
Jilly Dos Santos really did try to get to school on time. She set three successive alarms on her phone. 

Skipped breakfast. Hastily applied makeup while her fuming father drove. But last year she rarely made it into the frantic scrum at the doors of Rock Bridge High School by the first bell, at 7:50 a.m.     

Then she heard that the school board was about to make the day start even earlier, at 7:20 a.m.    “I thought, if that happens, I will die,” recalled Dos Santos, 17.     

That was when the sleep-deprived teenager turned into a sleep activist. She was determined to convince the board of a truth she knew in the core of her tired, lanky body: Teenagers are developmentally driven to be late to bed, late to rise. Could the board realign the first bell with that biological reality? 
How can one not adjust circadian rhythms a couple hours?  Get tired enough and you'll go to sleep at 9 pm and get up at 6--plenty of sleep, and plenty of time to get ready in the morning.  I'll be honest, I sometimes wonder if this "can't get up in the morning" thing isn't just an excuse--and remember, this comes from someone who is not a morning person.
Last February, the school board in Columbia voted, 6-1, to push back the high school start time to 9 a.m. “Jilly kicked it over the edge for us,” said Chris Belcher, the superintendent.    
It is now seven months into the new normal. At Rock Bridge, the later end to the day, at 4:05 p.m., is problematic for some, including athletes who often miss the last period to make their away games.     

The high schools in the district have tried to adjust, for example by adding Wi-Fi access to buses so athletes can do homework on the road. Some classes meet only one or two days a week, and are supplemented with online instruction. More sports practices and clubs convene before school.     

Some parents and first-period teachers are seeing a payoff in students who are more rested and alert. 
If you can get to school early for sports and clubs, why not for class?  I remain skeptical.  For the third time, this comes from someone who wouldn't mind getting up later, but who also sees more problems with this supposed "solution".

I've written on this subject at least twice before

Hat tip to reader MikeAT.

9 comments:

scott mccall said...

but, they're seeing improvements aren't they? isn't that what the final solution should be about? improving the quality of their education?

momof4 said...

If kids want to get up early, and prepare the night before, they can function just fine - in my experience. If they stay up late on cell phone, videogame, TV or internet, then it's a problem. Two of the schools my family and connections attended had late starts, but zero hour was very popular - especially with the best students. One of my kids used it and the other was at swim practice from 0430-0630, next to two sheets of ice full of hockey players and figure skaters. One of my soccer players had games at midnight, 1 1/2 hours away, two nights a week, for part of the winter and still managed to get to zero hour at 0730 - assisted by a nap after school or homework or in the car. Motivated kids will make early starts work - and why should we run the schools for the least motivated?

Auntie Ann said...

Unfortunately, not everyone can readjust. I had major insomnia issues all through high school. I'd be in bed by 10:30 or 11:00, I'd even be exhausted, but I would still be wide awake until 1:30. Yes, I could feel dead tired and wide awake at the same time. As soon as my head hit the pillow, my mind would go into overdrive. As tired as my body was, by brain wasn't ready to switch gears. I'd have to get up by 6:30, so I went through high school on 5 hours of sleep a night. I did okay, but now I wonder if I would have done better with more sleep. It never crossed my mind to talk to my parents about seeing a doctor.

Some people just cant readjust. This is why half the commercials on TV are for lunestra and ambien.

LeftCoastRef said...

Why do my Mormon students, who attend "seminary" each morning from 6-6:50am have no problems functioning each day? I agree with a comment from one of your previous posts - inconveniencing everyone (including athletics where kids miss more class to travel) just to have kids shift their sleep schedules is dumb.

CyberChalky said...

I must admit the concept that teenagers are unable to work (effectively) or pay attention/learn early in the morning strikes me as comprehensively ridiculous, and the assertion that it has some basis in biological/physiological factors farcical.

It certainly wasn't the case in generations prior to generation x, and there seems to be no evidence of such deficiency in many other countries worldwide.

I can believe that it could be cultural or psychological/ socially constructed - in which case, catering to it would be exceptionally counterproductive.

As to the comment above (Scott McCall), I see no evidence that there are improvements - if anything, responding to this engrains future negative behaviour and expectations.

scott mccall said...

CyberChalky - in the article is says "Some parents and first-period teachers are seeing a payoff in students who are more rested and alert."

I assume "payoff" means better alertness from students, better participation, and possibly higher scores.

momof4 said...

Of far longer pedigree than athletic or artistic (practicing an instrument etc) before school is the civilization-long tradition of early-morning CHORES; taking care of animals, watering gardens, picking produce, advance prep for dinner, helping with younger siblings etc., which have been done for most of the history of schooling - and still happens in rural communities. That includes hunting/fishing before (and after) school. Large numbers of my schoolmates did the latter, as did many teachers. (There were lots of shotguns, rifles and fishing knives in the cars in the school parking lot and NONE ever caused problems.) I'm guessing that the "teenagers can't get up in the morning" meme didn't exist at least until the 90s or so; I don't remember hearing about it when my kids were little. Of course, that was before all of the electronic distractions existed, let alone increased to the point of TVs and computers in kids' rooms.

Mr. W said...

Darren you missed the quote from the NY Times write up on this story;

"Even when I am late to school now,” she said, dashing down a corridor to make that 8:55 bell, “it’s only by three or four minutes."

so even with the late start time, she still can't get to school on time.

Linda said...

Ridiculous! I teach, and know that EVERY student who claims they're just a late riser is up WAY too late at night. Some are wasting time, some work, some have family responsibilities

Put away the electronics, make kids turn over their phones to their parents, and try reading for 1/2 hour just before turning off the lights.