Will more zzzz's equal more A's?

Does your teenager survive on precious little sleep? Before you point the finger at late-night texting or midnight Facebooking, blame biology. Not the class, the clock.

Dr. Mark Splaingard, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said sleep deprivation boils down to a teenager's biological clock, which ticks differently because of the sleep-influencing hormone melatonin.

"Melatonin secretion, which normally starts at about 9:30 p.m. pre-puberty, is delayed until about 10:30 in adolescents," said Splaingard. This means teenagers don't begin to get sleepy until 11:30 p.m. or later.

As a result, studies show that, on average, teenagers fall two hours short of the recommended nine hours of sleep each night. Two hours, multiplied by five school nights is problematic. In addition to teens dozing in class, Splaingard said other problems linked to sleep deprivation include car accidents, depression, even obesity.

Dublin City Schools started looking at the issue nearly two years ago. Beginning this fall, the district will join dozens of other schools across the country that have shifted the start of the high-school day to a later time, hoping that students will get more sleep.

Dublin Jerome High School junior Megan O'Donnell is excited: "I am 100 percent for the change because I'm so tired almost every single day. I just come home from school exhausted. An extra half hour (of sleep) will be really beneficial."

Megan is on the district's task force that looked at the practicality, cost and potential benefits of shifting the school day from a 7:25 a.m. to 8 a.m. start time.

Melatonin may be a culprit but Megan's mom, Sue O'Donnell, said extra-curricular commitments take a toll, too.

"I've watched (my children) come home from activities on average two nights a week between 9:30 or 10 at night," said O'Donnell. "There's no way that you can get home at 9:45 at night and get yourself right to bed."

Sleepy teens versus busy schedules is no doubt a time-sensitive debate, but Splaingard said to his knowledge no district that has made the change has ever gone back to the earlier start time.

He admits experts are reluctant to claim that more sleep makes a child smarter, but added, "No study has shown that more sleep makes you dumber. Everything seems to show that less sleep makes you do worse.
Students can't learn with their eyes closed."