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Dawn Bormann | In rush of school year, sleep suffers

In an ideal world, teenagers would sleep in.

Ask just about any sleep researcher — and just about any teenager — and they’ll tell you. Once students hit puberty, they need more sleep. This isn’t just a teenage plot to escape chemistry. It’s human biology, and many researchers and pediatricians wish parents and society would take it more seriously.

Scores of researchers agree that in general, elementary children need a tad less sleep daily than a child in the throes of puberty. Pediatricians recommend about eight to nine hours for first- through sixth-graders. Once children hit puberty, make it nine to 10 hours.

That’s a pipe dream for most high school students juggling homework, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and social lives. There’s no time for restorative sleep.

Pediatricians have watched the problem grow worse in recent years as more time demands are placed on students.

“The whole intensification of high school especially is just out of sync with many of the needs of adolescents,” said Stephen Lauer, a pediatrician at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Non-stop schedules leave many teens getting six to seven hours a night, but one teenager admits that during sports season it can drop to as little as four hours.

“Our biology has not changed. Society has changed. That’s where we run into problems,” Lauer said.

Many high schools start class about 7:30 a.m., but most schools are buzzing at least an hour earlier given the need to fit in things like club meetings, band practice and more. Many younger students report to class 30 to 45 minutes later.

So why not bump up elementary school times and let high school and middle school come in 30 minutes later? The switch would help, researchers conclude.

Many school administrators agree with the concept. But the logistics aren’t easy.

The Kansas City school district found that out in just one year. The district made a bold move on the side of research in 2010 when it pushed back high school bell times. It was flatly rejected by parents and even teenagers, who weren’t keen on losing hours at after-school jobs. Parents said the shift created massive problems for families, who needed older children home earlier to help care for younger siblings.

Busing was a big obstacle as well.

“You have little kids waiting at the bus stop in the dark in the winter time,” said district spokeswoman Eileen Houston-Stewart.

Last year the time was moved up an hour and the complaints stopped.

But area administrators haven’t stopped gently reminding parents that it’s time to transition from summer sleep times to time-honored school routines.

Mission Trail Principal Jim McMullen pushes the idea of sleep with parents every year.

“You’re really dictating probably lifelong routines really in terms of sleep,” he said.

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