For adolescents' health and success, don't start school at an earlier time

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Budget cuts have handed Linda Lane, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, our teachers and our children an impossible situation. The administration is clearly trying to do its best, and we all understand that everyone must share the financial pain.

However, as a practicing physician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC -- and the mother of two teenagers at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School -- I feel compelled to point out that adolescents require at least nine hours of sleep each night. Starting high school classes at 7:11 a.m. may be a fiscal remedy, but it is a disaster for the health of our children ("Some City Schools to Start Day as Much as One Hour Earlier," April 10).

Our teenagers' internal clocks, or circadian rhythm, are not those of adults. Adolescents become alert at just the time they would need to fall asleep to be able to awaken in time to be in class by 7:11 a.m. This isn't their fault. Melatonin, which helps to drive onset of sleep, produces a sleep cycle of 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Going to bed earlier is antithetical to the way nature has wired the teenage brain.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that more than 45 percent of adolescents are sleep deprived. The impact of sleep deprivation includes poor academic performance, decreased alertness and athletic performance, depression, irritability and increased automobile accidents, among many more negative consequences. The research on early school start times has been expertly laid out on a convenient website, schoolstarttime.org.

Among the many wonderful things my children have learned at Allderdice is how to be critical thinkers and how to evaluate data and research. In this case the data are clear.

As Ms. Lane continues to pursue all avenues to address the budget shortfall, I hope she and her staff will take account of available research and consider ways of minimizing our children's sleep deprivation in order to maximize their learning capacity.

LORETA MATHEO, M.D.
Division of Adolescent Medicine
Children's Hospital
Lawrenceville


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First Published April 26, 2012 12:00 AM


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