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Sleep and a Later School Day

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

If there’s one thing that almost all of us needs more of, it would be sleep. Try as we might, the vast majority of us are walking around tired and sleep-deprived. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that we get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but that’s not easy.

For one thing, we live in a completely wired world. While we can turn down the lights, turn off the TV, silence the smartphone, click off the laptop, and pull the shades in pursuit of sleep, it has more to do with the pace of modern life. We are always plugged in and the expectation is that we should always be on and plugged in.

Go back a few decades and Americans did not have the internet, smart devices, and social media. Many television stations signed off the air at a decent hour. Most businesses closed in late afternoon so that the pace of life had boundaries and the expectations to be accessible were far less than today.

I’m not sure when it changed, but somewhere along the way we made heroes out of entrepreneurs who sleep four or five hours a night, all in the name of moving fast and breaking records. Getting less sleep has been equated with being driven and more dedicated to success.

Yet doctors and sleep experts tell us that a chronic lack of proper sleep contributes to all sorts of conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. And I would think that the link between poor sleep and multiple mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide will become even more obvious as additional research is completed.

While the recommendation for adults is seven to nine hours of sleep, children and teens need more sleep as their bodies grow. That’s why I was glad to learn of a recent bill (S-2462) sponsored by State senators Vin Gopal and Richard Codey that would require the school day for high schoolers to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The bill takes into consideration two things—that teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep and their internal clocks (i.e. ircadian rhythm) have them up later at night and sleeping later in the morning.

Typical teens can barely drag themselves out of bed early in the morning and that’s not a sign of laziness but simply the biology of adolescence. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

This type of legislation is not unique to New Jersey. A similar law, the first of its kind nationally, recently went into effect in California, requiring public high schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later, while middle schools are to start at 8 a.m. or later.

Implementing change will not necessarily be easy. Coordinating school bus transportation will be challenging as will ensuring that students get the required amount of classroom time during the academic year. The change in start times will also present logistical issues for parents and educators in terms of rearranging daily routines. Regardless, I think making the adjustments to accommodate the sleep needs of high school students will pay dividends over the long haul in terms of health and productivity.

Consider that a 2022 Casper-Gallup report on sleep in America tells us that lost productivity due to lack of sleep costs the U.S economy an estimated $44.6 billion each year in unplanned absenteeism from work. Getting enough sleep is no small thing and there’s value in trying to build good sleep habits into the next generation.

Mayoral Musings