Sleep: it's more important than you think, especially for teenagers. Here's from George Will's latest column, "How to ruin a child":
Only 5 percent of high school seniors get eight hours of sleep a night. Children get an hour less than they did 30 years ago, which subtracts IQ points and adds body weight.
Does getting less sleep really make kids dumber? Sort of. Will cites
research on grade schoolers showing that "the performance gap caused by an hour's difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader." In high school, there is a steep decline in sleep hours, and a striking correlation of sleep and grades.
So why don't we just push school start times back an hour and let our kids get the extra sleep they need? And is this really such a problem?
The school day starts too early because that is convenient for parents and teachers. Awakened at dawn, teenage brains are still releasing melatonin, which makes them sleepy. This is one reason young adults are responsible for half of the 100,000 annual "fall asleep" automobile crashes. When Edina, Minn., changed its high school start from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., math/verbal SAT scores rose substantially.
Furthermore, sleep loss increases the hormone that stimulates hunger and decreases the one that suppresses appetite. Hence the correlation between less sleep and more obesity.
If this is a problem for the average American teenager, it is compounded for the average Mormon teenager who is attending early-morning seminary. Over the last thirty years, as high school start times have been pushed back from 8:00 or 8:30 to 7:30 or even earlier, the start times for early-morning seminary have moved in lock step from around 7:00 a.m. to as early as 6:00 a.m. This means Mormon students are getting up as early as 5:00 a.m. If the logic of Will's article holds, these Mormon teens are paying a steep price.
Does anyone care? Does the Church Education System care? Parents certainly care, but are often unaware of the demonstrated link between adequate sleep for teenagers and their health and academic success. I think if parents were more aware, they'd care a lot more.
I'm not advocating the abolition of early-morning seminary; the program does a lot for LDS teens who participate. But there are costs as well as benefits, and I rarely (never?) see any indication that those who run the program are aware of the costs, which fall on the kids, parents, and teachers who participate in early-morning seminary, not the 9-to-5 CES bureaucrats who run the system. If we were more aware of these costs, perhaps some adjustments would be made in the program to minimize these negative effects while retaining the overall benefits that early-morning seminary offers LDS teenagers.
Originally published with comments at Times and Seasons.