Mom: Teens need more sleep

Considering research that indicates adolescents feel and perform better when their academic day begins after 8:30 a.m., local school district officials discussed Tuesday the possible pros and cons of a later start time at La Cañada High School.

The discussion came at the request of parent Belinda Dong, who presented arguments and evidence in favor of a switch at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the LCUSD Governing Board.

“It’s sort of screaming at my face, saying we cannot ignore it anymore,” Dong said of the research on teen brains and sleep. “What’s learned needs to be restored and encoded into the memory. If it’s lost, it’s lost forever.”

Currently, LCHS’s first period begins at 7:45 a.m. every day except Tuesdays, when teacher collaboration periods push the start time back to 8:40 a.m.

Dong argued that starting at least 30 minutes later could positively impact teenagers’ moods, memory retention and, consequently, their academic performance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. Articles published by the association, and provided by LCUSD, state that schools beginning earlier than 8:30 a.m. contribute to insufficient sleep and circadian rhythm disruption in adolescents.

This is because during puberty, adolescents fall asleep and wake about two hours later than normal, something researchers attribute to a delay in production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin and other changes that make them feel more awake longer.

Developing teen brains also need more sleep to process information learned during the day, from 8.5 to 9.5 hours each night, the academy reports.

“Delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement,” states an abstract of an AAP policy statement issued earlier this year.

Despite the compelling evidence in favor of later start times, board members expressed caution about making a unilateral change that would impact the schedules of the district and the families of the more than 1,400 students who attend LCHS.

“It would be a difficult decision for us to just implement,” said Board President Ellen Multari. “We’d have to be very thoughtful about all the potential conflicts.”

Last April, the board changed the academic calendar, pushing the start date up eight days to Aug. 20 for the 2013-14 academic year and to Aug. 12 this year. The district also added 13 early-release/late-start days to the calendar to allow teachers to collaborate on lesson plans.

Both changes were met with some resistance by families not keen on having to retool their own schedules.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette said she wanted to be careful about any decision that would potentially further disrupt families. She also said a later start time would mean a later end time, potentially affecting the district’s joint-use agreement with the city and LCUSD’s athletic participation in the Rio Hondo League.

“There is a necessity to try and keep in sync with your local schools and your Rio Hondo League,” Sinnette said. “You’d be doing your students a disservice to have separate times.”

Interested in learning more, board members ultimately decided to seek feedback from parents at upcoming PTA meetings to see if the school community wanted to pursue the matter further.

Dong said she was confident people would support a change once they learned the facts.

“If we can give them an opportunity to digest the research and the articles…I think the rest would come naturally,” she said.