Indiana Youth Institute research shows teens aren’t getting enough sleep during the week and suggests pushing middle and high school start times later.
A local pediatrician agrees the move could benefit students across Dubois County, but says he doesn’t know how possible it would be.
“In an ideal world — yes, high school should start later,” said Dr. Michael Ruff, a board-certified pediatrician at Jasper Pediatrics. “From a logistical standpoint, I don’t know if it’s feasible, really.”
IYI issued an op-ed piece penned by its president and CEO, Tami Silverman, on Aug. 7. In it, Silverman cited Riley Hospital for Children pediatric sleep specialist Sarah Honaker, who explained that a biological change occurs during and after puberty that makes teenagers want to fall asleep later and subsequently wake up later the following morning.
All high schools in Dubois County begin their days before 8:30 a.m. — the earliest start time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics — but their leaders and teachers question what difference pushing the beginning of the day back would make and fear it could have a negative impact on daily operations.
“When you change one thing, it changes others,” said Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang. “It could have a tremendous effect on the other end of the day. You can’t just make a change and think it’s not going to affect anything else.”
According to Silverman, nearly 8 in 10 Indiana high school students receive less than the recommended eight hours of sleep on school nights, which can lead to behavior issues, learning problems, poor impulse control and other academic challenges.
“As kids get older and as they reach adolescence, their internal body clocks and their sleep clocks switch, so that biologically they want to stay up later and get up later,” Silverman said in a phone interview. “I have two teens — it’s not just them being lazy or whiny or whatever. There’s actually a biological, internal developmental phase telling them to sleep later in the morning and go to sleep later (at night).”
Ruff said that teens and adolescents should get nine hours of sleep a night and that enough zzz’s helps kids academically and socially.
Northeast Dubois High School begins the day at 7:55 a.m., Jasper High School and Forest Park Junior-Senior High School start at 8 a.m., and Southridge kicks off its day at 8:10 a.m. Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City starts at 7:58 a.m. CDT.
Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey said in an email Thursday that she would see increased costs in transportation as well as interference with after-school activities if the school start time was later. Southeast Dubois Superintendent Rick Allen said since Dubois County is a manufacturing hub, many of the area’s parents wouldn’t support the move because they work early in the morning.
“I do support new technology and medical research,” he said. “But what’s 30 minutes? I think parents need to also understand the research and then tell their kid to go to bed (earlier).”
Ruth Schnarr of Jasper has a 15-year-old daughter, Kimber, who is a sophomore at Jasper High School. Schnarr said that as a working parent, she prefers the corporation’s current 8 a.m. start time.
“I think it’s a good time because it’s got to be before work starts,” said Schnarr, who is employed at MasterBrand and starts her day there at 7:45 a.m.
The Herald spoke with several students at Jasper High School this morning as they entered the building in regards to their opinion on the time they start the day. They each expressed different views on the issue depending on their schedules and after-school activities, but they overwhelmingly agreed that while they feel they get an appropriate amount of sleep and aren’t normally tired, they do notice sleepy kids around the school.
“I would say that since a lot of our brain activity is pretty well-off later in the morning, I wouldn’t be against that,” Jasper freshman Keaton Prechtel said of pushing back the start time. He normally goes to bed around 10 p.m. and wakes up at roughly 5:45 a.m., and said that’s usually enough sleep for him. He added he doesn’t have a preference between the current 8 a.m. start time and the AAP’s recommended 8:30 a.m. time.
North Spencer Schools Superintendent Dan Scherry said he believes a direct correlation exists between the time students go to bed at night and the time they are expected to be in class the following morning. To a certain degree, he said, the issue is out of the corporations’ hands.
“Do kids look groggy and tired when they come in in the morning? Absolutely,” Scherry said. “Do I think they’d look groggy and tired at 9 o’clock in the morning if we started then? Absolutely.”
Jasper foreign language teacher Susan McKenzie’s opinions echoed Scherry’s. She has been involved in education for 31 years, and while she’s not opposed to pushing the time back to 8:30, she doesn’t know how much it would actually change.
“I know there’s all kinds of research on the brain and development, but right now, I think eight o’clock is a good time,” she said. “There’s pros and cons on which would be better and in my opinion, I think if (students) would know that they’re going to start the day later, then they may not adjust their evening hours.”
McKenzie said she notices tired students at the school as well. She said some of this comes from students readjusting their sleep schedules after the weekend and working late on school nights.
Scherry, Allen and Hochgesang all said they would consider examining their start times if it became a bigger issue with parents. But for now, they have no plans to modify them.
Ruff encouraged teens to power down their smart phones and other handheld media devices about an hour before their targeted bedtime to get a better night’s sleep. He said the combination of the LED lighting and the emotional effects that social media websites can stir in users can make falling asleep more challenging.
Silverman acknowledged in her release that shifting start times is complex and carries potential issues, such as reduced time for after-school activities, part-time jobs, as well as other family childcare and schedule issues. She noted that many districts opt to flip elementary schedules with middle and high schools, which can add other concerns about the effects on younger children.