By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – In a report on teen sleep needs, Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) parent Mary Hamaker sites that the combination of homework and extracurricular activities, coupled with a 7:20 a.m. school start time, collide with teens” sleep requirements and natural circadian rhythms. The consequences of too little sleep, she wrote, substantially interfere not only with academic performance, but raise a host of other health problems.
Hamaker is one in a growing number of parents who are launching a grassroots effort to move the high school start time later.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens require about nine hours of sleep per night. Sleep researchers have found that adolescents” brains do not emit melatonin, the natural chemical that signals the brain to sleep, until about 11 p.m. In keeping with this theory, going to bed at 11 p.m. and sleeping for nine hours, until 8 a.m., is in conflict with Algonquin's 7:20 a.m. start time.
According to research done by Hamaker, the consequences of sleep deprivation are many. Among them, drowsiness and fatigue during the school day, reduced ability to solve complex problems, lack of ability to concentrate, emotional and mood swings, impulsive behavior, poor reaction times, increased anxiety and depression, substance abuse, increased automobile accidents, lower grades, tardiness and attendance problems, obesity and metabolic problems, sports injuries, and lower self-esteem.
Tom Mead, principal of ARHS, believes that the idea of an earlier start time has merit.
“I know that there are a growing number of high schools across the country that have made some adjustment in their start and finish times,” Mead said.?”I think it is possible to make this change, provided the entire community embraces the challenge of figuring out the details.?Fortunately, we have several good examples of schools in this state that have solved these issues.”
School Superintendent Dr. Charles Gobron echoed Mead's sentiments.
“Teenagers” internal clocks work in a different way than ours and early morning hours are not their best hours,” agreed Gobron. “The research is extremely clear. I think it is important to raise awareness but, even more, we need to orchestrate the change on a regional level.”
Towns such as Sharon, Duxbury, North Andover, Medway, Nauset and Hingham have recognized the important health and academic problems associated with inadequate sleep and have moved the start time later to accommodate the natural sleep cycle of teens. The Algonquin Parent Teacher Exploratory Committee is hoping to do the same and is looking for more parents who are willing to help work through these logistics to create a proposal for presentation to the School Committee. Heading up the exploratory committee are Mary Hamaker, Kathy Allen, Lynn Minasian-Somers and Dina Tremblay.
ARHS junior Julia Lewkowitz has created a website to provide information and updates as well as literature on teen sleep requirements and the documented success of other towns which have already changed their start times.
When all is said and done, the goal is to allow students the best opportunity for success.
“It is paramount that we place the health of our children first so that they have the best opportunity to achieve to their true potential,” Hamaker said.
For more information or to contact the Algonquin Parent Teacher Exploratory Committee, visit www.AlgonquinStartTime.Weebly.com.