By Dr. Jan Hittelman

Over the last several years, this column has discussed the effects of sleep deprivation on high school students. Adolescents are usually sleep deprived for two reasons; increased metabolic rates that make it difficult for teens to get to sleep until 11pm on average and early start times for high school. Research indicates that adolescents typically require 9+ hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts school performance, as well as physical and emotional well-being. There’s also an increased risk of accidents, which are the number one cause of death for teens. Not to mention how difficult the “morning routine” can be when adolescents are literally too tired to wake-up.

While we cannot do much about their metabolic rate, we can do something about school start times. Many school districts across the country have shifted to a later start time and have seen a multitude of benefits.

In December of 2009, the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) formed a committee to look at this issue. They subsequently submitted their recommendation to Superintendent King. According to Dr. Rhonda Haniford, Centaurus High School Principal and committee co-facilitator, “The District’s position is that they are supportive of principals exercising flexibility. They support schedules that allow students to start later”. While this falls shy of changing the start time throughout the district, it does provide students and families with the opportunity to request a later start time from their local high school principal. In other words, it’s a start.

Hopefully, BVSD will do a good job educating parents regarding this policy change. If enough parents opt for the later start time, one day we may see all of our adolescents finally benefiting from a good night’s sleep.

Here are a few ways that you can help your teen get a healthy night’s sleep:

• Contact your local high school principal now to find out if your school will be offering this option in the fall.
• Minimize caffeine products like coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, especially later in the day.
• Consider moving electronics out of the bedroom (TV, computer, cell phone, iPod, etc.) or agreeing on shutting everything off by a certain time.
• Avoid eating, drinking, and exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
• Encourage completion of homework earlier in the day.

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