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  The Herman Trend Alert

July 14, 2010

Postpone School Start Time to Support Adolescent Learning

In his landmark book, "The Seven Secrets of Learning Revealed", our late THG Consulting Partners colleague, Laurence Martel, details adolescents' optimum times for learning.

Reinforcing Martel's work, a pilot study, conducted in a small private high school (St. George's School) by Hasbro Children's Hospital located in Providence, Rhode Island, confirms a brief delay in school start time of only 30 minutes was associated with significant improvements in adolescent alertness, mood, and health. These findings were published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Inadequate nightly sleep in adolescents, defined as fewer than nine hours, is a known problem and a major public health concern. For years, pediatric sleep experts have encouraged delayed school start times to address this concern. In fact, the start time in this study was delayed only from 8am to 8:30am.

Due to a shift in circadian rhythms, biological changes in adolescents can cause a "phase delay"---later sleep onset and wake times. Despite the shift in their wake/sleep times, the optimal sleep amount for adolescents is nine to 9- hours per night. On a practical level, this sleep pattern means that the average adolescent rarely falls asleep before 11pm, so the ideal wake time is around 8am. Not surprising, many studies have documented that the average adolescent is "chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy".

The consequences of sleep deprivation are far-reaching: impairments in mood, attention and memory, behavior control and quality of life; lower academic performance and a decreased motivation to learn; and health-related effects including increased risk of weight-gain, lack of exercise and use of stimulants.

Overall the percent of students sleeping fewer than seven hours, after the change in school start time, decreased by 80 percent. Plus, there was a significant average increase in sleep duration of 45 minutes on school nights. across all grades (nine to 12).

We have only begun to scratch the surface in discovering how to support learning among people of all ages. Certainly, we may expect these insights about sleep and start times to result in more student-centric schools similar to many of the changes made at High Point University.

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