September 19, 2007

Sleep Deprived Students and ADD

There is a common practice in many, and probably most American homes that is causing significant problems for children. Many people are suggesting a common solution to this overwhelming problem… they are proposing to change our schools. That proposed change will be slow, and I believe that the solution is bypassing the real problem and the real solution. The solution to this pervasive problem lies in the homes of America.

The Problem

The problem that I am speaking of is that many American teens (and many younger children for that matter) are attending school severely sleep deprived. These children suffer lower grades, lack of attention, discipline problems, and other difficulties. Sometimes these sleep deprived children are even diagnosed with learning disabilities like ADD, ADD/ADHD and then given drugs that further compound the problem.

“Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health! Lack of sufficient sleep--a rampant problem among teens--appears to put adolescents at risk for cognitive and emotional difficulties, poor school performance, accidents and psychopathology, research suggests.”
Cornell University psychologist James B. Maas, PhD, one of the nation's leading sleep experts.

Here is what I see happening. When children are very young, most parents require their children to go to bed quite early. At the time that most children start school a common bedtime would be 8:00 p.m. However as the child gets older the parents start allowing the children to stay up a little later. With each year of maturity, the bedtime gets later and later.

Missing the Forest for the Trees
Here is How the Problem Has Come About

There is one key cause of this problem that most people trying to solve it are missing… while the bedtime for children keeps getting progressively later as they grow older; the “get up time” stays the same. The outcome of this time dynamic is that kids are not getting enough sleep! Almost all doctors and pediatricians will very firmly tell anyone who asks that children going through puberty absolutely need at least 9.5 hours of sleep a night. Most will even say that 10 hours is optimum. (If you don’t believe me do a “Google Search” typing in the words “sleep deprived students” and do some reading.) I am sure that you will be as shocked as I was. We had observed this problem on our own when we were public school teachers, but now, there are hundreds of research studies backing up our observations.

I taught high school and middle school for 30 years and my wife, Barbara, taught middle school for 19 years and we taught in five different school districts and in every one of those school districts the school day started at or before 8:00 A.M. Now, after traveling the nation and visiting schools all across America, I know that 8:00 is a very typical start time. Just a little common sense tells me that in order to get to school by 8:00 a student who rides a bus must get up by at least 6:45. A little arithmetic says that a child who has gone to bed at 10:00 P.M. has only had 8 ¾ hours of sleep. A child who goes to bed at 11:00 is operating on 7 ¾ hours of sleep!

Common Bedtimes

One thing that we knew as teachers was that even 11:00 P.M. was a very common bedtime for our students. We also knew that many were up even past that time simply because of the conversations they had about the television shows that seemed to be their favorites! Our students were often fans of shows that ended at 11:00 and many talked about what they saw on the 11:00 news!

Any student who watched the 11:00 news and then arrived on time at school for an 8:00 A.M. class was operating on a daily sleep deprivation of two to three hours! And then we wondered why so many of our students had a hard time concentrating and focusing on their school work!

Changing the Schools Should NOT Be the Solution

Now, let me go back to my original statement about the proposed solutions to this extremely common problem; many people are proposing that we solve this sleep deprivation problem by starting school at a much later time; like 9:00 or even 10:00 A.M. This will be a meaningless change if the families do not enforce bedtimes that insure 9 ½ to 10 hours of sleep for their children every night . The change in sleep habits must take place in the homes!

"Barking Up the Wrong Tree"

It always bothered me when I was teaching school to find that the very first proposal for solutions to so many problems was to make changes in the schools. Drug awareness and drug prevention have been improperly dumped on the schools. Schools are being held responsible for so many things that should be handled in the home.

Proper sleep habits are not the domain of schools. Schools should have little or no input in how much sleep their students are getting. That is the domain of parents and families. Parents must assure that their own children are getting enough sleep!

Now, I have some concrete suggestion for taking control of the sleep time in your home. If you would like to hear some of these, just check back for my next article in this spot. Or, you can go to this link: ( ) and listen to my proposal for taking control of time in your home and most importantly taking control of bedtime.


Anonymous said...

right on !!
as a pediatrician, I'd agree; but do need to add that the normal cycle for teens is a bit different than younger children and adults.
melatonin release by the pineal gland is later in teens. while this adds to the problem, it does not change any of Mac's comments, but it may add a combined role for schools and parents.

DSPS said...

IMO the first commenter was too bland, or too diplomatic, on this matter. I agree with the head teacher in an Independent (UK) article last week: He says "We have always assumed that learning early in the morning is best, probably because it is best for young children and adults.... Unfortunately, it is not true for teenagers. When teenagers are woken up at our morning time, their brain tells them they should be asleep." This agrees with anonymous pediatrician above: "[T]he normal cycle for teens is a bit different than younger children and adults. [M]elatonin release by the pineal gland is later in teens." So if schools start at 10 for teens, the kids are likely to go to bed at the same time as now, and gain two hours sleep per night. This should be to everyone's advantage, with the possible exception of some teachers, but they could just schedule all their meetings for 8 a.m. and go home when the teens do.

Mac said...

Agreed, the sleep needs for different ages of children differ, however, that does not change the fact that many are simply sleep deprived! Parents must take control and teach their children to schedule time for sleep!