Seattle’s Early School Start Times – personal experience

It’s 9am Saturday as I write this. My middle school student is still sleeping, despite the household noises. Yesterday, and every school day, she would be finishing math and be headed into science class in 10 minutes. Both essential subjects to master. Yet difficult to master at a time you’d naturally be sleeping.

Over the last 2-3 decades lots of research has demonstrated that puberty shifts natural sleep times later, that secondary students are largely sleep deprived because of early school start times, and that with later school start times students get more sleep, which improves academics, health and safety. You can learn more about this topic at www.startschoollater.net and www.schoolstarttime.org.

Since spring of 2012 thousands of Seattlites, Wa and Seattle PTA, teachers, school nurses, and sleep specialists have asked the Seattle School District to start secondary schools at 8:30am or later, evidence based times. After 2+ years, the district has established a “Bell Time Analysis Task Force” which will look at the issue and make a recommendation to the superintendent in June 2015, for possible implementation fall 2016. As they slowly move on this community-led initiative, the approximately 23,000 secondary students are struggling with sleep deprivation each and every day.
(She woke up now, 9:05am – time for science on a regular school day).

My daughter and family are negatively impacted by Seattle’s early school start times, here’s how:
– My daughter can’t fall asleep at the time she needs to to get enough sleep (9pm for a 6:30am wake-up). She often gets frustrated in the night, and asks for sleep medication. AT 11 years old, it’s a bad sign for her to think she can’t get to sleep on her own and needs medication! What she’s done a couple times this week is to get into bed with me after a couple hours of not being able to fall asleep on her own. She hasn’t gotten into the ‘big bed’ for years! This disturbs my own sleep, and causes sleep deprivation which impacts my day and the people I interact with.
– Getting woken up when she’s still sleepy often sets us up for negative interactions between us and feeling rushed in the morning.
– She’s been sick a lot, missing two full weeks of the 15 weeks this fall. Remember, sleep deprivation impairs immune function.
– It is now so dark at commute time that I drive her for safety, so she misses out on the exercise she needs to get by walking to school. (A child at her school was hit by a car yesterday on the walk to school. She was grazed by the side view mirror, and foot run over by the rear tire).
– At the beginning of the school year she often needed a nap after school, and now needs one on weekends, which cuts our ability to have activities with family and friends. She’s socializing less with her friends.
– When my parents retired they moved into Seattle to be near the grandchildren. It’s been a nice routine over the last years to have family dinner with the grandparents and my brother’s family on Fridays twice a month. Now we no longer can meet because my daughter is so exhausted by Friday afternoon that she is in tears and can’t politely interact with the family. Now the grandparents and cousins feel disconnected and our family ties are weakened.

From this personal experience, I see that the Seattle School Districts slow implementation of evidence-based school start times has a negative ripple effect throughout our community. In our family life alone the impact is felt by: the student, parents, grandparents, cousins, student’s friends, parent’s circle of interactions. That’s a lot of people negatively impacted by one student getting up too early (7 directly, plus more indirectly)!

How are the current early start times in Seattle’s secondary schools impacting your family and community?

Record of natural wake times on winter break:
Saturday 20th wake time 9:05a
Sunday 21st wake time 8:55a

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