Letter to the editor: The importance of sleep

Why I started the Change.org petition

By Sharlene Liu , Homestead Parent

Dear Editor,

As a parent at Homestead HS, I am concerned about the overall well-being of Homestead students.  One area that I think would make a significant impact on students’ well-being is sleep.  I am dismayed to see that teenagers chronically operate on insufficient sleep and the detrimental effects of such a lifestyle.  To help students get enough sleep, I started a petition in September to lobby our school district to delay school start times.  I would like to share some facts behind why I started that effort.  If students understand the role sleep plays in their health, my hope is that students will choose to sleep more.  The following facts are from a recent talk I attended by Stanford sleep researcher, Dr. Rafael Pelayo, addressing Mountain View HS students, and from the American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 policy statement on delaying high school start times.

Dr. Pelayo understands teenagers well, having two teenagers himself.  Here’s what he told MVHS students.  Teenagers are more impaired from lack of sleep than adults.  They become more impulsive and inattentive than adults with the same sleep deficit.  Impulsivity leads to sometimes tragic consequences like car crashes and suicide.  Six teenagers in the US die daily from car accidents, a root cause of that being drowsy driving.  Dr. Pelayo understands that students have a heavy homework load, making them inclined to stay up late doing homework.   Ironically, he notes, lack of sleep is counterproductive to learning.  Sleep is a necessity for learning:  you memorize and create during sleep.  Sleep converts short-term memory to long-term memory, allowing you to retain the information for finals and beyond.  Dreaming during sleep enhances your creativity, needed for writing essays, writing lab reports, and creating art projects.  Sleep washes your brain, to prepare it for the next day.  Garbage accumulates in the brain if you don’t get enough sleep.

Informed by research and data from across the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that high school start times should be no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  The Academy indicates that, out of biological necessity, most teens need to sleep from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. in order to get sufficient sleep.  87 percent of teens are getting insufficient sleep, typically seven hours instead of the requisite nine hours.  Furthermore, parents are unaware of their teens’ sleep needs, with 71 percent believing that their children are getting enough sleep.

The Academy states that sleep deficit contributes to poorer academic performance, absenteeism, tardiness, depression, poorer impulse control including suicide, drowsy driving, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Numerous studies demonstrate that early start times impede high schoolers’ ability to get sufficient sleep.  Contrary to popular belief, delaying start time does result in students getting more sleep; in other words, students do not delay their bedtime by as many minutes as the delay in school start.  Moreover, this substantive increase in average sleep duration has a positive effect on daytime alertness, attendance rate, enrollment, academic achievement, health, happiness, and responsible driving.

I encourage students to read the Academy’s policy statement themselves, at:

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1697.full.pdf

I am going to invite Dr. Pelayo to come to our district to give a talk, and I hope you can all attend.

Sharlene Liu, Ph.D.

Homestead Parent