As reported by the Greenwich Time, January 11, 2009.

Students Claim Lack of Sleep Hurts Performance

By Colin Gustafson

For Greenwich High School freshman Matt Stanton, an extra hour of sleep in the morning would make a world of difference at school.

By the time first period starts at 7:30 a.m., "I'm knocked out," said Stanton, 14, who must wake up around 6 a.m. to catch a bus to class. "I'm not sleeping, but I'm just really exhausted, like I can't pay any attention."

The school's early start time also creates an ordeal for Matt's mother, Theresa, who says she must rouse her two groggy-eyed sons out of bed every morning, often well before sunrise.

"It's like torture for these kids," said Stanton, co-chair of the PTA Council's Wellness Committee. "I'm tired of my children walking around like zombies."

With a two-year review of potential reforms to secondary schools under way, Stanton and several like-minded moms now say they're planning to lobby school officials and administrators to push back the high school's schedule by as much as an hour.

The regular school day at GHS runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., and consists of six 55-minute periods, plus lunch break, with athletics and extracurricular activities scheduled for after dismissal and, in some cases, before the opening bell.

Advocates of changing this schedule point to research showing that teenagers' biological rhythms tend to clash with early-morning school schedules, leaving them chronically sleep-deprived and unfocused during the first classes of the day.

While elementary schoolers are more prone to go to bed earlier, adolescents experience a roughly two-hour shift forward in their sleep cycle in puberty, which makes it harder for their bodies to produce the sleep-inducing hormone melanin before 11 p.m., researchers say.

The number of sleep hours teenagers need also increases to seven to nine hours, compared to the six to eight hours adults require, said Dan McNalley, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Connecticut's Health Center in Farmington.

Yet high school students, on average, get between six-and-a-half and seven hours of sleep a night, McNalley said.

Kim Daine, a Riverside mother who also supports the schedule change, says that's unacceptable for a school system that expects a high level of performance from its students.

"In a community like this, we should be able to give our kids the optimal education experience, and I don't think waking them up from deep, deep sleep to work around this schedule is helping," Daine said.

She plans to join Stanton in lobbying the district's Secondary Schools Review Committee this year to consider a schedule change as a way to enhance students' attention and engagement in morning classes.

Greenwich High School Headmaster Al Capasso said that while the idea of a later school day has merit, it would become too much of a disruption to after-school sports and teachers' commutes.

"Theoretically, kids would benefit from a later start time," Capasso said. "But pragmatically, I don't think we can make it happen."

If classes started an hour later, he argued, the athletic schedule would have to be pushed back, making it harder for coaches to coordinate games with other schools and forcing students to miss their last classes of the day more often, he said.

It would also make the commute to work more difficult for teachers, who would be driving to the high school "at the height of the morning rush" around 8 a.m., the headmaster argued.

"We're already losing teachers because of the commute," he said. "I don't want to make it any harder for teachers to work in Greenwich."

Supporters of the schedule-change plan point to Wilton's school districts, which has successfully moved their school start times back from 7:15 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. without adding transportation costs or disrupting athletic schedules, parents said.

"Wilton managed to find a way to figure it out," Stanton said. "Why can't we?"

Chris Winters, director of curriculum, instruction and professional learning of Greenwich public schools, said a committee would be formed by the end of the school year to consider issues relating to school time.