Closing Observations

“According to psychologists, sociologists, and educators, as well as anecdotal reports and stories from parents and teachers, adolescents growing up in the United States are portrayed as stormy, moody, persistent, entitled, self-centered, independent, and emotional. Sleep researchers, parents, and teachers have added that adolescents are frequently sleepy and exhausted. This intense developmental stage is marked by physiological, cognitive, emotional, and psychosocial changes. Among the host of changes that accompany adolescence, quality, quantity, and timing of sleep are influenced by changing academic demands, new social pressures, altered parent-child relationships, and increased time spent in part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and sports. Likewise, the way adolescents sleep critically influences their ability to think, behave, and feel through adolescence. Researchers have demonstrated that adolescents growing up in the late 1990s and early part of this decade are not getting enough sleep; however, countermeasures have not been developed to reverse this trend.

“Although sleep consumes approximately one-third of our lives (50% at early school age), it is often ignored by developmental psychologists, pediatricians, educators, and others who devote their lives to working with children and adolescents. For example, sleep is rarely mentioned in textbooks on adolescent development, child-adolescent sleep topics are infrequently presented at the Society for Research on Child Development meetings (.3% of presentations at the 1995 biennial SRCD meeting), and pediatricians get very little training in sleep medicine. This chapter examines current knowledge of the factors that influence adolescents’ sleep-wake patterns and discusses how adolescent sleep researchers, school administrators, health care providers, and policy makers must bridge the research-practice gap so that adolescents can be alert (not sleep-deprived) and successful in school.

“Philosophers, psychologists, and other theorists throughout history, such as Aristotle, John Locke, G. Stanley Hall, and Carol Gilligan (Brown & Gilligan, 1992), have viewed the transition or crossroads from childhood to adulthood as a time of vulnerability as well as an opportunity for developing a life-style that promotes health, physical and psychological well-being, and empathy. They argued that special attention should be given to helping and supporting adolescents through this period so that they can become healthy and successful adults. Unfortunately, over the past several decades adolescents have been viewed with disrespect, disregard, and antagonism. More than 30 years ago, U.S. teenagers were seen as idealistic. In contrast, currently they are viewed as one of the main roots of our nation’s social ills (e.g., drug abuse, juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, gangs, violence). This chapter argues that one explanation for adolescents’ academic difficulties, behavior problems, and disengagement from school relates to society’s reinforcement of irregular and short sleep-wake schedules through early morning school start times and pressure to work long hours after school. Data suggest that adolescents are starting school at increasingly earlier times, working increasingly longer hours after school, and sleeping fewer hours than in the past. If this trend continues, teenagers will have difficulty successfully negotiating the transition into adulthood. We must focus on how to make things more manageable for adolescents as opposed to setting up systems that are likely to promote failure.” (560)— Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross (2002).

“The actions and policies of school administrators can have a significant effect on the well-being of sleep-deprived students. Mitigating the effects of sleep problems has implications not only for school performance in the near term but also for students’ long-term health and quality of life. Given the pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the imperative to improve student outcomes, school administrators clearly need to better understand sleep and the effect of sleep deprivation on mental health and school functioning.” (11)—Peg Dawson, Ed.D., N.C.S.P., Staff Psychologist, Center for Learning and Attention Disorders, Seacoast Mental Health Center, past president of the New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the International School Psychology Association (2005).

“Many adolescents are not getting the recommended hours of sleep they need on school nights. Insufficient sleep is associated with participation in a number of health–risk behaviors including substance use, physical fighting, and serious consideration of suicide attempt. Public health intervention is greatly needed, and the consideration of delayed school start times may hold promise as one effective step in a comprehensive approach to address this problem.” (52)Lela McKnight–Eily, Ph.D., National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC), Division of Adult and Community Health (2011).

“Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners.” (5)Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior, Brown University School of Medicine, Director of Chronobiology and Sleep Research at Bradley Hospital (1999).

“Most adolescents are sub-optimally alert in the morning. Yet their biological clocks program them to go to sleep late–too late to get an optimal amount of sleep before the next school day begins. If we as a society are sending kids to school to learn, it would be wise to send them in a condition that fosters learning.” (670)Mark Mahowald, M.D., former Professor of Neurology, University of Minnesota Medical School, former Director, Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center (1994).

”Sleep deprivation, with such health consequences as depression, suicide, car crashes, and increased risk of other injuries, should be treated like hunger. We don’t expect children to learn without food and we shouldn’t expect them to learn without sleep.” (671)Mandi Mader, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. (2012).

“Cross-cultural research reinforces the view that less total sleep time among adolescents is associated with inability to concentrate on schoolwork and poorer school performance, as well as with mood disorders and substance abuse. [¶] Adults, unaware of the sleep needs of adolescents, require them to start school earlier in the day than is required of younger children. The social norms of the wider society, as well as those of most peer groups, do not discourage patterns of behavior that displace sleep. [¶] With so many adolescents working too many hours or too late in the evening, and adolescents starting school so early each weekday, there seems to be a need for thoughtful oversight of the demands of employers and schools. Adolescence is defined as a time for development, and harmful sleep patterns that increase risks for adolescents during that sensitive period cause adult society to pay a high price. Policy makers will soon be asked to take into account the impact of sleep deprivation on adolescents.” (59)Sanford Dornbusch, Ph.D., Professor emeritus of Sociology, Stanford University (2002).

“Taken together, research to date suggests adjusting time-in-day of educational tasks to adolescent wake/sleep patterns and chronotypes is likely to be beneficial. [¶¶] Studies of later start times have consistently reported benefits to adolescent sleep, health and learning using a wide variety of methodological approaches. In contrast there are no studies showing that early starts have any positive impact on sleep, health or learning.” (65)Paul Kelley, Ph.D., Honorary Research Associate, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford, Steven Lockley, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Russell Foster, Ph.D., F.R.S., Head of Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience, University of Oxford, Jonathan Kelley, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, Reno (2014).

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” (672)—Nelson Mandela (1995).

early-school-commute -- chris waits -- flickr