Sleep expert urges later school start times, less homework

Sleep expert, Dr. Charles Czeisler,  professor and director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, was invited to speak to the community in the Davis school district. His talk was covered in the local news, The Davis Enterprise. Here is what they had to say:

The problem with those early start times, Czeisler said, becomes evident when one counts backwards.

Teenagers, he said, need between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. If school starts at 7:45 a.m. as it does at Davis High, and students are waking up between 6:45 and 7 a.m. in order to get there on time, they would have to go to bed by 9:45 p.m. just to get nine hours of sleep.

Many teens themselves, he noted, “say that’s ridiculous.”

“My own daughter, who is 16, doesn’t even get home from crew until 8. So she wouldn’t be able to get her homework done. The numbers don’t add up.”

But later start times alone won’t solve the problem, he noted. Schools need to set as a minimum 11 hours between the end of any scheduled, school-sponsored activity — whether it’s a sports practice or game, music, drama, robotics or anything else — and the start of school the next day. With Davis High’s current 7:45 a.m. start time, that would require that all school-related activities end by 8:45 p.m.

Additionally, Czeisler said, homework needs to be limited — if assigned at all — and predictable.

“It’s very disruptive to sleep if (students) get an assignment on Monday and it’s due on Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.

Finally, parents need to play their role — even if it means playing the bad guy.

“There has to be shared responsibility,” Czeisler said. “Parents need to set bedtimes. It’s not popular, but parents who don’t set a bedtime of 10 p.m. in high school have children with a much higher risk of depression and suicidal ideation.”