Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sleep & School

Orthomom notes an absolutely fascinating study about how much of an effect sleep has on kids' functioning in school. Read the whole thing.

I think this is particularly interesting, as I've always been the "guy who doesn't sleep"... unless you ask my mother or Serach, who argue that I make up for it in the morning. Which, of course, is partially true. When I was in 7th grade, I likely went to sleep far later than most of my peers. Not only was I up late, I simply couldn't fall asleep for hours and hours. On the other hand, I was also the kid who would show up for minyan around Borchu at the earliest, but more often I'd go daven in the Beis Medrash downstairs in the HAC and get to breakfast a couple minutes after everybody else. In WITS, I led the school in detention (given out for coming late to curfew), piling up well over 100 hours' worth as I'd generally be awake until 2-3am... but I'd also consistently be nearing a suspension for minyan points as I'd come late for davening in the morning. This pattern has pretty much repeated itself for two decades. I go to sleep about three hours later than most people... and get up one hour later. Less sleep, but to a later point.

And yet, I was always among the sharpest in the class. In fact, I'd venture that the people I know who both stay up late but also sleep late the most are more often than not the brightest I know. They never seem groggy and rarely seem tired; they're sharp from the moment they get up (even if that is at noon or 2pm) to the moment they go to bed (4-7am). Maybe it's psychological; they feel more rested because they're getting up "late". Maybe they fall asleep faster, because they're going to sleep when their body says so, not at a proscribed time. But in light of some of the examples given in the article, I wonder if the effect is so much the amount of sleep people get as when they get that sleep. [emphasis mine]
Convinced by the mountain of studies, a handful of school districts around the nation are starting school later in the morning. The best known of these is in Edina, Minnesota, an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where the high school start time was changed from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30. The results were startling. In the year preceding the time change, math and verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of Edina’s students averaged 1288. A year later, the top 10 percent averaged 1500, an increase that couldn’t be attributed to any other variable. “Truly flabbergasting,” said Brian O’Reilly, the College Board’s executive director for SAT Program Relations, on hearing the results.

Another trailblazing school district is Lexington, Kentucky’s, which also moved its start time an hour later. After the time change, teenage car accidents in Lexington were down 16 percent. The rest of the state showed a 9 percent rise.
Whenever I used to get up "early", say to borrow my friend Toast or iPay's brother's notes to study for tests at 5am, I would feel extremely groggy if I'd gone to sleep early to do so. Even though I'd gotten the same or more sleep as I normally would, I would still feel a bit less sharp. [Interestingly, if I'd stayed up late, taken a quick nap, and done this, I would still feel sharp.] And I'd feel less sharp all day - from classes in the morning to classes in the afternoon to general lethargy while playing football. But if I slept an extra half-hour to an hour in the morning, even if I'd stayed up incredibly late the night before, I'd feel sharp throughout.

Also interestingly... I never once fell asleep in class until 12th grade. (And as far as I can recall, that was the only time.) Friends would fall asleep all the time; I never understood it.

While the study is clearly referring to the difference in sleep, period, and shows that the difference starts at when kids go to sleep... I wonder if the effect is much greater in how late people sleep in the morning and not when they go to sleep at night. After all, people who go to bed earlier may lie awake for a while; but a person sleeping in the morning who gets up with an alarm will be getting definite sleep in that extra hour, at the least until their own body wakes them up. It's also extra time in the deeper and more fulfilling stages of sleep.

Anyway, it's an interesting study, with far-reaching effects. I think it's time more people learned to sleep in. :)

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