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Progress on Bell Times in Seattle – Press Release

Since spring of 2012, thousands of people in Seattle have been asking for bell times to be aligned with the times teens best times for learning, health and safety.  The District convened a Bell Time Task force in the fall.  Participating on the Task Force, I share some of the concerns about the process that are voiced in this press release from Start School Later Seattle on May 7, 2015.  The press release is copied below.

If you would like improved bell times for Seattle students, please email your support to  The preferred option from the Task Force is 2 tiers, elementary at 8am, middle and high school at 8:50am.  From independent analysis this option seems financially feasible, allows all students to be in school at their best time to learn, and least disruption to family schedules.





Health, Safety and Equity in Education


Press Statement by Cynthia Jatul May 7, 2015

Start School Later Seattle Questions the Validity of SPS’s Community Engagement Process on Bell Times

As members of Start School Later Seattle we joined the bell time task force on good faith that the process would include meaningful input.  We are rapidly losing faith in the district’s process in terms of analysis and communication. SPS is currently gathering community input on the question of changing bell times. However there are multiple ways in which the process is flawed.  District staff rejected the inclusion of a two tier option with 8:00 and 8:50 start times despite recommendations by the task force to consider this option. There is no place on the online survey for people to write in comment, effectively preventing the public from suggesting a two tier system.  SPS claims two tiers will cost an additional $20 million dollars but has not substantiated this analysis.  SPS is using two methods to collect data and has no control over how many times individuals respond.  The accompanying FAQs are heavily weighted towards potential negative outcomes of later starts. In summary, we call into question the validity of the data collected given the inconsistency between the two methods used, the lack of comment space, and the overall negative bias of the survey and informational documents.  A full enumeration of our concerns, which have been sent to Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Sam Markert, Bell Time Analysis Project Manager is provided on page 2.

The Seattle community deserves to know that the task force recommended consideration of a two tier system and that the tools being used to elicit community input were constructed without review by the task force. The community also deserves to know how the district arrived at an estimated $20 million additional cost for the two tier start.

The following members of Start School Later Seattle are available to discuss these issues in more detail.

Cynthia Jatul, NBCT                                                  Samar Hoag MS, RN

Co-chair Start School Later Seattle                            (206)660-8344


Maida Chen, MD                                                        Horacio de la Iglesia, PhD

Director, Sleep Disorders Program                           Biology Professor

Seattle Children’s Hospital                              

(206)987-2174                                                           (206)335-7901

  1. The process by which the three options were decided upon was done with limited input by the task force.  Although we discussed and voted on a number of options that were generated by the district and the task force, the current options; 1) no change, 2) modified flip, 3) extended day were basically pre-determined by the district.  The extended day option received the least number of votes by the task force because it fails to meet American Academy of Pediatric recommendations for all middle school students and approximately half of high school students.  The task force’s most favored option, a two tier system with elementary schools starting at 8:00 and 8:50 and all middle and high schools at 8:50 was categorically removed from consideration by the district.  The district claims a two tier system will cost an additional $20 million.  By independent analysis we believe the additional cost to be closer to $1.6 million.  SPS changed to a three tier system in 2012 and only saved $2 million (, thus a return to a two tier system shouldn’t exceed $2 million.
  2. We were promised at a meeting last spring at Roosevelt High School that presentations to the community on the issue would be unbiased.  The 3 options flyer and the option 2 and option 3 FAQs have a greater emphasis on potential negative impacts then they do on the positive.  In none of these documents is there a forthright statement on the major impetus for consideration of adjusting bell times, namely to adjust our schedules to align with the biology of our students in order to improve learning, health, and safety of middle and high school age students.
  3. Community engagement communications, except for the N2N video, have been made without taskforce oversight or review.  The task force has had no input into the wording of the N2N questionnaire, the online survey, or the FAQ documents.
  4. Not only are the FAQ’s skewed toward potential negative impacts but they also contain glaring distortions of reality.  Both option 2 and 3 FAQs claim that the district is collaborating with the medical community to “impart health education”.  There is no evidence that the sleep medicine community nor the school nurses have been called upon to help educate the community on the issues of adolescent sleep and the importance of sleep for brain function (hence learning), health, and safety.
  5. The FAQ’s state, “Currently, there is a Task Force working on a recommendation to address the 24 credit graduation requirement problem, which would be a decision made independent of a bell time change. This issue, along with the 1080 instruction hour requirement, is also a challenge to be addressed. The application of solutions for these state requirements within a new bell time structure would be required for any option under consideration.” (italics added)  The task force has not been informed that meeting 24 credit or 1080 hours must be met by a bell time change. Therefore we haven’t had meeting these state requirements as one of our goals.
  6. While the task force was told that the community would have a chance to suggest alternative bell schedules, neither the N2N questionnaire nor the online survey solicits such input.  The online survey has in fact, no place for comments. How will the task force know what other options the community might favor?
  7. Data gathering through the N2N process is not following the original intent.  The questionnaires are available in so many venues that many respondents will not have viewed the video prior to responding.  These responses will not be based on the educational components of the video and therefore will constitute a very different data set.  Therefore the N2N data shouldn’t be evaluated in the same manner.   What is the purpose of such widespread distribution when SPS is also using an online survey?

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 and

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

Great video on Sleep Deprivation

Over the years I’ve written a lot about sleep deprivation and it’s effects.  Primarily because Behaviorally Induced Insufficient Sleep ie, chronic partial sleep deprivation, is the most common sleep problem, affecting 47% of adults in America.

Right now I’m working with a group of shift workers to help them create a lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep on work nights and days off, and optimal alertness when awake.  People can be very motivated to work nights because of the increased pay, and often shorter work week because of longer, 12 hour shifts.  But trying to sleep during the day is hard, and often shift workers are sleep deprived.  To help them stay motivated to get enough sleep, I’ve been teaching them about the negative impact of sleep deprivation.  This excellent youtube video about “25 scary and surprising effects of sleep deprivation” by List25 tells it well.  Enjoy!


Start School Later meets with the Dept. of Health

Tomorrow, July 18, the leaders of the national Start School Later initiative will be meeting with directors at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health. There is a connection between early school start times and depression and suicidal thoughts that needs to be addressed.

The full press release is below, and I’ll post the update from the meeting in the next few days. If you’d like to weigh in with your support of later school start times you can sign the petition at

Contact: Heather Macintosh, 410-279-4569
Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider, Co-Director, 410-262-6616

Start School Later, a national coalition advocating for sane, humane high school start times, is meeting with Dr. Anne Mathews-Younes, Director of the Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress and Special Programs, and Dr. Richard McKeon, Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the US Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS), Wednesday, July 18, in Rockville, MD.

Compelling scientific research shows that adolescents’ sleep needs are being dangerously compromised by the extremely early school schedules of many US high schools. Waking at 5:30 to catch a bus and begin school in the 7 o’clock hour is incompatible with adolescent sleep needs and causing teens to miss out on the crucial sleep they need for physical and mental health and development and optimum academic achievement. Sleep deprivation is strongly linked to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, among other health effects.

SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which, in turn, is increasingly recognizing the importance sleep plays in the health and wellness of young people.

“We’re looking forward to discussing ways federal agencies might be helpful in raising awareness and facilitating policies to ensure safe, healthy school hours for all children,” says Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, Start School Later’s Co-Director. “This has been impossible to achieve in many local school systems, where all too often politics and myth trump student health and well-being.”

Start School Later is an all-volunteer, national coalition working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning. Coalition members attending the SAMHSA meeting include Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider and Kari Oakes, PA-C, both from Maryland, as well as Terry Cralle, RN, of Virginia, and Debbie Coleman, MBA, faculty member at the Miami University (Ohio).

Start School Later – Contact your Senators!

Thanks to Terra Snider, Kari Oakes, and Mary King for delivering the Start School Later petition to our Washington State Senators Murry and Cantwell in person on Weds, April 18. This team is committing many hours to speak with congress people from around the country on this important issue. Now is the time for each of us to reach out and voice our support of this initiative with our state congress people. Please do so today!

Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2621
Fax: 202-224-0238
Toll Free: 866-481-9186
Email: Web Form:

Senator Maria Cantwell
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-3441
Fax: 202-228-514
Toll Free: 888-648-7328
Email: HTTP://

For those of you reading this in other states, you can learn more about this initiative at There is a tool to find the congress people for your zip code here: Please contact them now, as the Start School Later team is systematically contacting all the Congress and House of Representatives. Together we can make this important improvement for thousands of teens!

Start School Later goes to Washington DC

Over the last week the efforts for the national Start School Later initiative have been intense. This week, March 7th, this petition will be presented to Congress. You can see the press release copied below.


400 more signatures are needed as of this moment. I support this initiative in part because many of my adult insomnia patients say that their sleep problems began as a teen, and I’d like to prevent that in the next generation. Thank you, Catherine

Grassroots Petition to Start School Later Goes to Washington for Sleep Week
March 1, 2012

Annapolis, MD- Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., 410-975-9759
Seattle, WA- Catherine Darley, ND,, 206-293-2899

Annapolis, MD. To honor National Sleep Awareness Week, a grassroots coalition of parents, teachers, and health professionals will begin delivering a petition advocating a minimum school start time of 8 a.m. to Congress and White House officials on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. The petition, garnering national attention, has signatures from all 50 states and Washington, DC and has fueled activity in local communities from Short Hills, NJ to Woodinville, WA.
“Most U.S. high schools today start in the 7 a.m. hour, a practice that began several decades ago primarily to save money on bus runs,” explains Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., a medical writer and the petition creator from Maryland who is also the mother of three. After more than a decade of work advocating for later start times in her local school system, Snider recounts, “Although evidence is crystal clear that starting later is best for health and learning, political obstacles and myths have made change virtually impossible in most districts.”
The petition effort has galvanized a national coalition of health professionals, sleep researchers, educators, parents, and other concerned citizens called Start School Later. The coalition has representation from 16 states and includes an advisory board comprised of notable sleep researchers, adolescent health care providers, and education leaders.
Voluminous research indicates that later school start time can lead to:
• Reduced sleep deprivation, depression, mood swings, and suicidal ideation
• Decreased stimulant abuse, weight gain, and diabetes risk
• Reduced early morning traffic accidents and drowsy driving by new teen drivers
• Improved safety by eliminating waiting or walking in dark, low visibility settings
• Reduced risky after-school behaviors in unsupervised adolescents
• Reduced truancy and absenteeism, and improve school performance
• Improved lifetime earnings potential, according to a recent study published by the Brookings Institute
Locally, in Washington state about 375people have signed this national petition.
Signature totals and comments from Start School Later’s campaign:

For more information on Start School Later:
Start School Later is a coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity.

Time to Help Teens Sleep

Teen Sleep

Do you remember dragging yourself out of bed for high school, then struggling to stay awake during class?  You were not alone in this.  Physiologically, teens are set to go to sleep later, and get up later.  Unfortunately school start times require that students be alert and functioning before their bodies are awake.  The good news is that a national movement to start schools later is gathering momentum, and you can join in!

Teen Body Clocks

As part of puberty, the circadian rhythm or ‘body clock’ shifts later.  Research in the last couple years has shown that this shift to later hours happens early in puberty, before other changes may appear.  Decades ago it was thought teens’ late hours were because they enjoyed late-night socializing or sadly some teens were called ‘lazy’ because they slept late.  We now know these sleep hours are based on their physiology. 

This shift can contribute to teens being sleep deprived in that they aren’t able to go to sleep earlier in the night because they aren’t sleepy, but yet they have to get up at a time they are sleeping well to go to school.  Research shows 80% of high school students are significantly sleep deprived, that’s a higher percentage than adults!

Help your Teen get Adequate Sleep

First, figure out how much sleep your teenager needs each night. It might help to remember a vacation when s/he was sleeping on their own schedule and was rested & energetic during the day. Next, plan to get up at the latest time for school, and count backwards to determine the bedtime that allows enough sleep. If it is not possible to go to bed at that time during the week, allow extra time for sleep on weekends.

Sometimes teens aren’t able to fall asleep even when they are in bed at a reasonable time. This is because their body clock is shifted later. They may need medical help to shift their body clock earlier.

Help Change Teens Sleep Nationally

In the last several months an effort to Start School Later has grown. There is a national petition to legislate that schools not start before 8am. This will be presented to Congress during National Sleep Awareness Week, March 5-11. Please join this effort to improve the teen sleep and the entire teen experience by signing this today (it will take 2 minutes). My hope is that we can change generations of teen experience of highschool and that time of life.

Sign the petition today!

Grandma Died . . . I Can’t Sleep

Sadly, my special grandma died Friday night. I will miss her, and remember all the great times we had, and the things she taught me over the years.

Having learned on Saturday morning about her passing, it was on my mind as I settled in to sleep Saturday night. My thoughts were on Grandma, flitting from one memory to another, I was upset. So it took a long time to fall asleep, then I was in and out of sleep through the night, disturbed by the high winds, thinking about the next days’ activities, and even wondering what time it was, if it was time to get up.

This was acute insomnia, which is really typical when people have some type of life-event. Fortunately, I have a long history of robust sleep, so this one night won’t throw me off. On the other hand, for people who have recovered from chronic insomnia, even an understandable acute insomnia in response to an identified stressor can bring up worries about their sleep. That worry about sleep makes sleep more elusive, and can trigger another episode of chronic insomnia.

So what to do? First of all, if an identifiable life-event has happened, keep in mind that it is normal for sleep to be disturbed as we are processing our emotions. As best you can, take time each day to sit and reflect on your experience, allow your emotions to come up, and express them either to a friend, by journaling, or other way. Do this during the day, at least 2 hours before bed, and then in the night tell yourself “I’ll have time to think about this more tomorrow, now is time to rest.” Second of all, don’t begin to worry about your sleep, knowing that as you recover from the event, your sleep will improve. During this emotional time, keep in place all those healthy sleep habits mentioned in other posts – regular bedtime and wake routine, getting out of bed if awake long in the night, saving the bed just for sleep, regular exercise, etc.

Use these strategies. If a time comes that you are no longer feeling emotionally charged about the event, but your sleep is still disturbed, then it is time to get sleep help.

Teen Sleep

Remember your sleep in high school? Staying up late, then sleeping late on weekends is what lots of people remember. Unfortunately, another common memory is struggling to get out of bed for school.

It all happens because during puberty, our intrinsic body clock shifts later. Our body clock sets the rhythms in many of our systems, from when our melatonin and cortisol peak, to when we are most mentally sharp and physically coordinated. New research has shown that this swing to later timing is actually one of the first things that happen in puberty, even before physical changes can be observed.

Impact of teens sleep

The difficulty comes when teens (and tweens) need to be on an earlier schedule than their body is programmed for. When school starts early, students are in class, trying to pay attention and learn while their body and mind are asleep. Challenging, eh? Teens’ sleep basically gets squeezed between their later body clocks, and their early schedules. When high school start times were moved on hour later in Minnesota, there was an increase in amount of nightly sleep and subsequent improvement in school success: with improved attendance and most importantly increased graduation rates.

Other studies have looked at the amount of sleep teens get and many health parameters. Teens who get less sleep are:

Less motivated to exercise, contributing to the epidemic in childhood obesity
Get lower grades
Are more depressed
Many other negative effects
How to improve student sleep

The basic principle is to sleep and wake in accordance with the intrinsic body clock. So first of all, honor that teens are on a later schedule, and then set routines that help them be on as early as possible.

Avoid scheduling early morning activities when possible. Advocate for your children when parents and coaches are scheduling events.
Set a sleep / wake schedule, and stick with it.
Get bright light, preferably outdoor light, soon after waking each morning. This is most important in setting the body clock.
Sometimes these measures won’t have a big enough impact. There are medical interventions that can help teens sleep and wake on their early school schedule.

Natural Solutions for Chronic Insomnia

It is a common experience to have some transient sleep disturbanceses with life’s challenges. However, for some people this becomes a chronic problem. Although pharmaceutical sleep aides can provide short term relief, natural medicine is needed to treat the cause so the patient is able to sleep well on their own. This talk will discuss the various causes of chronic insomnia, and behavioral, nutritional and other natural solutions.

This month I’ll be speaking for The Greater Seattle Integrative Medicine Group which includes holistic MDs, NDs, Lac, nutritionists, counselors and body workers.  Please join us.

Date: Thursday, September 15, 6 pm to 8:30 pm
Location: Swedish Cultural Center, 1920 Dexter Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
Cost: $15
CEUs for NDs = 1.5