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Later School Start Times for Sleep-Deprived CT Teens

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August 30, 2010

WILTON, Conn. - Middle and high school students are notorious for staying up late and struggling to get up in the morning, then snoozing half the day on weekends to catch up on their sleep. As these teens head back to school across Connecticut, some towns are rethinking their school schedules as a result.

Lisa Bogan with the League of Women Voters of Connecticut says the town of Wilton delayed start times for its middle and high school by almost an hour back in 2003, after thoroughly studying the issue. Hormone changes in puberty affect the body's level of melatonin, which allows humans to fall asleep, she explains.

"Puberty changes the time at which those levels become high enough that an adolescent will fall asleep. It also changes the time when the level goes down again, so that the body can, in effect, wake up."

She says the impact of the delayed start time has been positive, and both teachers and students are in favor of the new schedule. The League is supporting similar changes across the state that would delay school start times in line with adolescent sleep patterns, which run from about 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Minneapolis, which made the change to later start times more than a decade ago, has seen measurable drops in student absences and tardiness, Bogan says, and a lowering of the drop-out rate. In Wilton, with its high-income families and motivated students, these issues were not problems even before the change - although school principals did notice another development, she notes.

"The kids, when they arrived off the buses, would be cheerful, happy and talkative. It's anecdotal, but I think you can hang your hat on that one."

Adjusting class times is not easy, she warns. Many issues have to be resolved, such as shifting after-school activities and sports practices and arranging transportation.

"We had to find a way to redo the bus routes so that the start times could be accommodated - and not spend any money doing it. It was a logistical puzzle that we managed to put together."

Bogan says neighboring Weston also has changed its school start time, and many other Connecticut districts, including Ridgefield, Greenwich, West Hartford, Westport and some regional school districts, are exploring the idea.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT