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North Suburban News

Reading High School Students to Gain an Hour of Sleep

Dec 20, 2018 10:25PM ● By Lisa Redmond

READING – The Reading School Committee, facing pressure to push back the start time at the high school by one hour, unanimously voted to have Reading high school students start their school day at 8:30 a.m. for the 2019 school year. About half of the 10-town Middlesex League athletic program, of which Reading is a member, has opted for a “late start’’ to their school day in light of recent research about the adolescent brain. 

The motivation behind the change was triggered by sleep research and supported by various groups, such as the American Medical Association and National Education Association, that shows teens have different sleep cycles due to their circadian rhythms.

The Reading School Committee began investigating a change in start times by creating the Reading Memorial High School Start Time Committee, which presented its findings at the Dec. 6 School Committee meeting.

The late start committee’s goal was to get input about a schedule change from other communities in the Middlesex League, review research on teen sleep patterns, and advise the School Committee on how a later start time at Reading Memorial High School might impact students, staff and the community. 

Speaking on behalf of the committee, co-chairs Chris Kelley and Kate Boynton said the committee proposes a one-hour delay in the high school start time to 8:30 a.m. and release time at 3:02 p.m. from the current 7:30 a.m. to 2:11 p.m. Each period would be the same length, except for first period which will be an extra two minutes.

School Committee member Nick Boivin said he is willing to take a “leap of faith,’’ but noted there are still some concerns that need to be addressed. 

So far, Middlesex League schools of Burlington, Melrose, Stoneham, Watertown and Winchester have already committed to the time change and the other five communities are either in the process or pondering the change.

As a result, the league has already started to schedule sports events to support the new, later start/end times. The time shift is already being felt by Reading sports teams who have had some of their games delayed by up to 30 minutes.

Other districts that have moved to a later high school start time include: Acton-Boxborough, Ashland, Concord-Carlisle, Duxbury, Eastham, Hingham, Holyoke, Marblehead, Marlborough, Monomoy, Needham, Nauset, Sharon, Weston and others are moving to change their start times.

The logic behind the time shift is related to a teen’s Biology Timing Systems that are controlled in the suprachiasmatic nucleus part of the brain. The SCN is the circadian (daily) pacemaker and controls daily rhythms including sleep-wake cycles, alert and performance rhythms. Research shows teens’ SCN follows a different and later to bet, later to rise cycle.

Teens’ natural sleep pattern typically runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Due to circadian rhythms, teens get an extra burst of energy in the evening hours and have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. Melatonin remains in their system keeping them sleeping or sleepy until 8 a.m. Experts report that teens need 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep per night.

A survey of RMHS students show that only 15 percent of seniors get eight hours of sleep. Most seniors reported getting between six to seven hours of sleep per night.

The adverse effects of sleep deprivation can include: increased anxiety, increased depressing and vulnerability to stress, decreased motivation, increased obesity risks, drowsy driving, impulse control and increased risk-taking behaviors.

All this can result in lower academic achievement, impaired memory and decreased creativity. Student athletes who do not get at least 8 hours of sleep at 2.3 times more at risk for sports-related injuries.

A schedule change impacts more than just students. Some Reading High School staff and parents were concerned about the impact on traffic/commute, childcare needs, student extracurricular activities, jobs and homework.

                                                         Dream Come True or Nightmare?

While more sleep may be a dream come true for most teens, RMHS junior Autumn Hendrickson described a time change as a potential nightmare.

Hendrickson told the School Committee she is “deeply concerned’’ that a change in the start time will only put more stress on students, if the time spent on homework assignments and extracurricular activities stays the same.

After surveying her classmates, Hendrickson found on average they spent four hours per night on homework, with two juniors claiming they spent eight hours per night.

Then add on the hours spent each day on extracurricular activities, such as drama or sports, and some students hold down a job, she said.

“This is absolute insanity,’’ she told the committee. “Any high school-aged kid has every right not to sleep at night. We have so many things going on, by 11 p.m. we are praying we got everything done.’’

For 36 percent of RMHS students, schoolwork is the main stressor, she said. “You have to address the stressors your students are under,’’ she told the School Committee.

“Making such a drastic change within our community in the of sleep just to go along with neighboring communities will do absolutely nothing,’’ she said.

But neuroscientist David Corey, a Reading resident whose wife is a teacher, told the School Committee he has supported a later start time for years. “I’ve been wondering for the last decade why we don’t do this,’’ he said.

Corey said he sees the late start time as a “positive change’’ and the other issues are “all manageable.’’

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