SLEEP AND ADOLESCENT HEALTH
Based on research and its survey of the New Canaan school community, the League of Women Voters of New Canaan believes that adolescent sleep deprivation is a serious public health issue that must be addressed.
Inadequate sleep exacts a profound toll on students’ learning, cognition, mental and physical health, behavior and safety. Sleep is not simply a resting state, but an active process that restores, replenishes and consolidates mental, physical and emotional function.
In order for the link between sufficient sleep and personal achievement to be better understood, the League recommends that information about sleep be incorporated into educational programs in New Canaan Public Schools.
As the current 7:30 a.m. start time is incompatible with the sleep needs of adolescents, the League also recommends that the New Canaan Public Schools investigate all options to implement a later opening bell for 7th through 12th graders. We believe that this action will help create a more productive learning environment and be more consistent with the developmental needs of our adolescents.
Community education is an important component of this initiative as well. The League will continue to provide programs and materials to inform the public about the importance of sleep and the factors that can contribute to sleep deprivation.
June 1, 2006
SLEEP AND ADOLESCENT HEALTH
Thank you for your interest. Click on the links below to read the materials published by theLeague of Women Voters of New Canaan following two years of study by committee members. We also invite you to read selected articles published by the national press and the medical community. We welcome your comments or questions by email at:
Click on the links below:
(Please note: the report appendices are available in hard copy only, and can be located on the book shelves with the call number: REF 616.8498 N (New Canaan collection) of the New Canaan Library or at the school administration central office.)
In the spring of 2006, the League presented the findings of its survey of the public school community at an open forum. The power point presentation is available here; the full survey results are available at the library and central office, as noted above.
Links to related materials:
Facts About Safe Driving
These are a few selections from the extensive literature on adolescent sleep needs.
Pediatrics, June 2005, American Academy of Pediatrics’ Technical Report,
Pediatrics, June 2005
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health issued a “Working Group Report on Problem Sleepiness.” While recognizing that “problem sleepiness and its consequences affect all segments of society to some extent” it singled out two groups for its report – shift workers and adolescents – because “there is evidence that the prevalence of problem sleepiness is high and increasing in these groups, with particularly serious consequences.” [i]
A few years later, the American Academy of Pediatrics followed suit, establishing its own working group in conjunction with other organizations. Its report, published in the June 2005 issue of Pediatrics, stated that “adolescents and young adults are often excessively sleepy. This excessive sleepiness can have a profound impact on school performance, cognitive function, and mood and has been associated with other serious consequences such as increased incidence of automobile crashes.” [ii]
Adolescents need nine to ten hours of sleep per night -- the same as younger children. However, surveys conducted nationwide and here in New Canaan reveal that the majority of high school students sleep less than seven hours on school nights.
This is a cause for concern on many levels. If a person receives insufficient sleep, it does not mean simply that he or she will feel more tired the next day. Sleep is not a time when we just “shut down.” The body and brain are extremely busy during the night, and cutting sleep short compromises the physiological and neurological activities necessary to ensure optimal physical, emotional and mental functioning.
Both the quantity and quality of nightly sleep are important. A person cycles through two different types of sleep each night in predictable patterns. When a person wakes up earlier than the body demands, this architecture is disrupted and the person misses a significant amount of REM sleep, the stage where dreams occur and which is associated with the consolidation of learning and memory.
The body keeps track of missing sleep time. With each night of insufficient sleep, students add to a growing “sleep debt” which must be repaid. While the effects of sleep debt can be masked through temporary arousal, the underlying burden remains. Caffeine consumption, daytime napping and extended weekend sleep are all signs that adolescents are sleep deprived; these efforts to self-stimulate or catch up on sleep, while perhaps understandable and even necessary, compound the problem by making it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
Sleep debt is cumulative. By missing at least two hours of sleep each night, by Friday, these students are walking around with an accumulated ten to fifteen hours of sleep debt – the equivalent of at least a full night’s sleep.
A shift to later sleep patterns is one of the most notable developmental changes as children proceed into puberty. Hormonal changes alter circadian rhythms in adolescents. The alerting cues of the biological clock, which occur in peaks and troughs throughout the day to maintain wakefulness in the face of growing pressure from the biological sleep drive, create a situation where adolescents feel quite awake at night, even when they are severely sleep deprived. Melatonin, the hormone that induces drowsiness, is released at a later hour during adolescence. With early start times for school, adolescents are being woken up in the wrong phase of the circadian cycle, as melatonin levels are still elevated and body temperature is at its minimum, indicating a body still in sleep mode.
The world of the adolescent changes, too, which exacerbates the biological propensity for later bedtimes. A growing autonomy, greater academic responsibilities and increased opportunity for social and extracurricular activities contribute to changes in sleep patterns. The availability of electronic diversions also has an impact on sleep habits. As intrinsic biological changes and external influences intertwine, it is difficult for adolescents to fall asleep at an hour which is compatible with early wakeup times.
The resulting nightly sleep deprivation has profound consequences. From the standpoint of mental and emotional functioning, sleep deprivation cuts to the very core of what it means to be an adolescent. Developing social competence, learning to integrate emotions with thinking and planning, is the work of adolescence and sleep deprivation takes a profound toll on these capabilities. The prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, planning and reasoning) matures during adolescence by establishing the architecture of neural pathways for the adult brain; adequate sleep is essential to this process.
Insufficient sleep has a documented impact on a variety of cognitive, emotional and physical functions. Whether it is an adolescent’s ability to handle stress, combat depression, maintain alertness, consolidate new knowledge, ward off infection, drive safely or resist the allure of illicit substances, sleep is essential to daily functioning.
Experts have identified early school start times as biologically inappropriate for adolescents and a contributing factor to limited sleep time. The experience of schools that have moved to a later opening high school bell has shown that students receive more sleep: morning sleep is extended, while bedtimes remain virtually the same.
The evidence that adolescents are sleep deprived and that this has a profound impact on their well-being and development is clear and compelling. Deciding what to do about it is the more difficult challenge with the logistical issues that would accompany any start time changes, should the Board of Education decide to take on this action.
Yet, as revealed in the surveys administered by the League in 2006 to the public school community, there clearly is strong dissatisfaction with the current 7:30 start time for 7th – 12th graders from parents with students in those grades, as well as expressed anxiety from parents anticipating the future for their younger children. There is general satisfaction with the elementary school start times, although this satisfaction is greater at South School, which starts at 8:20 a.m., than it is for East and West, which start later. Faculty views on start time changes are mixed and show trends according to school, age group taught and length of employment.
A strong majority of parents with students at the 7:30 start time felt that moving to a later time would be acceptable in terms of starting sports and extracurricular activities later.
On June 1, 2006 the League of Women Voters of New Canaan issued a position statement that adolescent sleep deprivation is a serious public health issue that must be addressed. The League recommended that information about sleep be incorporated into educational programs in New Canaan public schools and that the school system investigate all options to implement a later starting time for 7th – 12th graders.
The pioneering sleep researcher, Dr. William C. Dement, says that out of all the knowledge he has accumulated in his fifty years of sleep research, “none is more important than the topic of sleep debt.” [iii] Any advance in the start time would be beneficial to begin reducing the burden of sleep debt for our adolescents.
A look at start times would address one piece of the puzzle, but so too may it be worthwhile for the members of our community to consider the cultural factors which help push bedtimes for many adolescents to alarmingly late hours.
As children enter adolescence, the challenges they face intensify enormously, with the increasing academic obligations and the responsibilities and pressures that accompany a growing autonomy. As a community, we must do all we can to support the ability of our adolescents to navigate these critical years safely and successfully and establish the healthy habits that will ensure their well-being throughout their lives.
[i] Dinges, D., M. Carskadon, R. Dahl, V. Haulcy, T. Monk, T. Roehrs, J.Walsh and T. Wehr. Working Group Report on Problem Sleepiness. National Center on Sleep Disorders Research and Office of Prevention, Education and Control, National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; August 1997; p. 1.
[ii] Millman, R. “Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences and Treatment Strategies.” Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Technical Report, 2005; p. 1.
[iii] Dement, W. and C. Vaughn. The Promise of Sleep. New York: Dell Publishing; 1999; p. 51.
LINK TO FULL SLEEP STUDY REPORT:
“Many people view sleep as merely a 'down time' when their brain shuts off and their body rests. But research reveals that a number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help to maintain good health and enable people to function at their best." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
“Excessive sleepiness can have a profound negative effect on school performance, cognitive function, and mood and has been associated with other serious consequences such as increased incidence of automobile crashes.” American Academy of Pediatrics’ Working Group on Sleepiness in Adolescents/Young Adults
“Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners.”
SLEEP STUDY GROUP HISTORY
In 2004, the LWV of New Canaan invited members of the LWV of Wilton and the town’s school superintendent to a public forum in our town to describe their experience in delaying middle and high school start times.
Hearing about the positive experience that Wilton had, the study group began its own research into children’s sleep needs and school start times. Group members have examined scientific studies and literature on the subject, medical journals, and other districts making changes in start times. In addition, the group has interviewed experts in the field of sleep medicine and sponsored public forums with expert speakers.
After presenting the idea of surveying the school community to the Board of Education in the fall of ’05, the study group administered its survey about children’s sleep habits and opinions regarding school start times to students in grades 4,6,8,10, and 12, New Canaan public school parents, and professional staff in all NCPS schools in February of ‘06. Results of these surveys were released at a public presentation on April 5th, and were reported in the local newspapers.
Throughout this entire process, the study group has maintained contact with Dr. Abbey, the New Canaan Superintendent of Schools, informing him of our progress and updating him about different steps we were taking. We are grateful for his cooperation as we’ve investigated this issue. (This does not signify any commitment on the part of the superintendent or the Board of Education to consider or act upon our recommendations.)
On June 1st, after obtaining a unanimous vote from its membership, the League of Women Voters of New Canaan issued to the public its position statement on sleep and adolescent health, along with a supporting fact sheet and overview.
Later in June, the League released its final report with all of its research findings, and it plans to make a formal presentation to the Board of Education in early fall ‘06.
CHRONOLOGY OF ACTIVITIES
4/19/04 Dr. Clune, superintendent of Wilton Public Schools and two members of the Wilton LWV discussed their research and the process to implement a 40 minute change in school start times for their High School and Middle School.
9/20/04 Organizational meeting of Sleep Study Group in New Canaan
9/27/04 Louise Herot and Lisa Bogan from the Wilton School Start Time Group come address New Canaan Sleep Study Group.
11/15/04 Dr. O’Malley and Dr. Fine, of the Norwalk Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders present their findings at an open meeting of the NCLWV.
The Facts About Safe DrivingThe Facts about Safe Driving
For most young drivers, learning to drive and getting a license is a life-changing experience.
Suddenly, they do not have to find rides, take buses or ride their bike. But being able to drive
also comes with a great deal of responsibility. All of this takes place at a time when young
people are experiencing biological changes and greater time demands, leaving little time for
proper sleep and other healthy habits. Before getting behind the wheel, there are several critical
facts that young drivers should know.
First, alcohol and driving do not mix. Many teens are involved in crashes caused by alcohol
even though it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to drink. Also, teens who have car
crashes are often repeat offenders when it comes to obeying traffic laws. According to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
28% of the teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking or had a prior
moving violation such as speeding
Second, fatigue can be as deadly as alcohol. Drowsiness impairs judgment, vision, hand-eye
coordination, and reaction times just like alcohol and drugs. One study found that after 17 hours
of being awake, a person has the same impairment on performance tests as someone with a
blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05. Waking at 6:00 a.m. to catch a school bus creates
the “17 hour danger” by 11:00 p.m. With accumulated sleep debt, similar fatigue can occur in
Combining sleepiness with driver inexperience can be dangerous - more than
half of all fall-asleep crashes involve drivers aged 25 years or younger
Biology, academic pressures, extracurricular activities and early school start times conspire to
keep teens from their sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2006Sleep in
America poll, more than half of teens report feeling sleepy during the day.
Third, distracted driving is unsafe at any speed. Common factors that increase the risk of
car crashes include:
passengers can cause a crash
Fourth, drowsy driving among teens is common. Teens are among the most sleep deprived
Americans. According to NSF’s 2006 poll:
More than half of teens (51%) admit to having driven drowsy in the past year
Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens – 7,460 teen drivers were involved in
fatal crashes in 2005
The privilege of driving comes with certain responsibilities, and safety-conscious parents must
do all they can to ensure their young drivers stay safe as they hit the road. That is why NSF
created this safe driver agreement specifically for young drivers and their parents.
The National Sleep Foundation
Parent/Teen Safe Driving Agreement
Before getting behind the wheel, the National Sleep Foundation urges new drivers and their
parents to promise themselves and each other the following:
As a family, we agree that…
As a new driver, I agree to…
to be picked up or make arrangements for alternative transportation
As parents, we agree to…
ride with others who do so
impaired by drugs, alcohol or sleepiness
This table outlines driving violations and their consequences for new drivers:
Driving Violation Consequence
Not wearing a seatbelt Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Using a cell phone (texting or talking) while driving Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Passenger restriction Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Nighttime driving curfew Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Driving under the influence of sleepiness Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Speeding/reckless driving Lose driving privileges for ______ days
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs Lose driving privileges for ______ days
I promise to abide by the rules outlined above. If I choose not to follow these rules, I understand
that I will lose my driving privileges and will need to make other transportation arrangements.
Signature_______________________________ Date _______________
I promise to set a good example and help my child to succeed in following these rules and to
become a safe and responsible driver. I will make myself available to discuss these rules and
driver safety when necessary.
Signature_______________________________ Date ________________