Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Data-Driven Schools: Sleep

Over the last few years there have been many articles regarding the research surrounding sleep. These articles not only focus on health, but frequently focus on the importance of adequate sleep for learning, and often focus on the need for teenage brains to get enough sleep (most of the articles seem to indicate that, for most teens, 9 hours is the minimum they need). The most recent, of course, was the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Pediatricians have a new prescription for schools: later start times for teens. Delaying the start of the school day until at least 8:30 a.m. would help curb their lack of sleep, which has been linked with poor health, bad grades, car crashes and other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy.

The influential group says teens are especially at risk. For them, "chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm."

The policy, aimed at middle schools and high schools, was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Studies have found that most U.S. students in middle school and high school don't get the recommended amount of sleep — 8½ to 9½ hours on school nights — and that most high school seniors get an average of less than seven hours.
This is a topic I've brought up frequently over the last few years, but it has gained very little traction. It's not that folks disagree with the research or the recommendation, it's mainly the problems it causes in three areas: after school daycare (older students watching their younger siblings), after school sports (practices and games), and after school employment. While I agree that those are real issues we should consider and tried to help mitigate, I don't think they should take precedence over our students' health and learning.

(I'm not sure I agree with the Executive Director of the National State Boards of Education who is quoted in that article suggesting that it's costs related to busing that's the problem. All school start times could simply be shifted later, or secondary schools could be shifted to start after elementaries - neither would affect the cost of busing.) 

Our student newspaper staff just did a survey where they asked a variety of questions and, interestingly, one of them was about sleep. Let me be clear, this is not a scientifically valid study, but given the sample size (323 students out of roughly 2150) and the distribution method (all students received a link in their student email accounts, so decently random), I think the data is going to be reasonably accurate.

The newspaper staff polled upperclassmen (11th and 12th graders) separate from underclassmen (9th and 10th), although the data for sleep was fairly similar. The choices students had were: less than 5, 5-6, 6-7, 7-8, and more than 8 hours of sleep. For both underclassmen and upperclassmen the median response was 6-7 hours, with the distribution of both groups skewing toward the left (fewer hours of sleep), with upperclassmen a bit more skewed than underclassmen.

So now we have some reasonably actionable data about our students. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 8½ to 9½ hours (with some studies recommending slightly more), and our students are reporting they get between 6-7 hours a night, with a significant number getting even less than that. (I should probably also mention that first period for us starts at 7:21 a.m.)

So I find it interesting in this age where schools are increasingly "encouraged" to be data-driven (at least when we're talking about test scores), that this set of data doesn't appear to be driving anything (except decreased health, increased accidents, and decreased learning for our students). While I frequently question data-driven decision making related to test scores (because I question the quality and meaningfulness of the data itself), in this case I think the data is pretty clear-cut: our students are not getting enough sleep, and it's adversely affecting their well being.

I wonder if we're willing to take on the challenge of making the right decision for our students' health and learning, even if it means inconveniencing adults?


  1. I agree, sleep is very important for health and successful self-development, but to tell the truth when you're at college and you have to fulfill your dissertation writing before deadline, you can't sleep. You search for informaion, then relax and think that you have lot of time and suddenly you understand that you have nothing. Finally it turns into a disaster and the last thing you think about is sleep... If you study at college\university you have almost no chances to sleep well.

  2. This is an interesting topic that not only affects students in the US but also students here where I teach in South Korea. Many of them spend most of their time in a classroom either at school, after school academy, or in an online Skype class. Usually they wake up at 7am and go to sleep about 1~3 am in the morning. Many of them walk in to class with bags under their eyes and I can't help but feel sorry for them. This year an all girls middle school wrote a letter to the newly elected governor suggesting to change the start time from 8:30am to 9am to allow all the students in Gyeonggido province to get a little bit more sleep. As of now it has shown positive results from the students. Hopefully this takes off with the rest of the country.