Schools seeing positive results from later start time for teens

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Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Teenagers who get enough sleep at night are in a better mood, do better in class and are safer drivers, according to a new study from the National Sleep Foundation. A growing number of central Indiana schools willing to give students bonus sleep time are seeing positive change.

At Avon High School, class begins at 8:00 am. That's a half-hour later than last year. Many students couldn't be happier about it.

"I think that starting later definitely makes us more alert in the morning and it does carry out throughout the day," said Keenan Morrison, Avon student.

"The extra sleep that I get every morning - absolutely love it. I'm more awake when I come to school," said Robin Gerboth, Avon student.

Avon is among a growing number of Central Indiana schools moving the start of the school day to give students more time to sleep.

"I think the research is very plain. The older the student, the later you should start school," said Rick Adcock, Avon High School principal.

School administrators say it doesn't cost anything to start classes later in the morning. The payoff is in better grades and attitudes.

"They'll want to come to school at eight o'clock more than they'll want to come at 7:30, so I think that's important - the attitude," said Adcock.

Not everyone agrees with the suggestion that high schools adjust their start times to accommodate teen physiology. Many parents on WTHR's Facebook wall said it's up to parents to make sure their kids go to bed on time and get enough sleep for the school day. Others pointed out scheduling problems that may arise if teenagers have afternoon jobs or extracurricular activities.

But leaders with the Indiana Youth Institute point to physiology as a reason to start classes later.

"As teenagers go through puberty, the hormone that causes us to become sleepy - it's called melatonin - it triggers later in a teenager's body. They're not often feeling sleepy until 11 o'clock or midnight and yet they still have to be in that first period classroom by 7:30 in high school," said Bill Stanczykiewicz, Indiana Youth Institute CEO.

Principals who've made the switch say it makes sense. They argue that well-rested students now come to class ready to learn.

Stanczykiewicz says teens should get nine hours of sleep every night. "I know parents are saying, yeah, good luck with that, and in fact the survey showed teenagers often go to bed after their parents do, sometimes in some rebelliousness and sometimes it's the activities. But it's also biology."

The same study found that technology is keeping people awake at night. Nearly everyone said they use some kind of electronic device an hour before bedtime. That included a television, computer, video game or cell phone. Doctors say our brains simply aren't ready for sleep because of those stimulants and artificial light.

"The light exposure is physiologically changing us so that we're more alert and less likely to even want to go to bed," said Dr. Charles Czeisler, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston. "They're being captivated by the very technologies that are denying them the sleep that they know that they need."