April 4 2017

Sleep Expert to Discuss Benefits of Later High School Start Times on Thursday Evening


The Burlington School Department is hosting a talk from a sleep specialist who has done extensive research in the area of teens and their sleep patterns as part of an ongoing discussion on high school start times.

“We are pleased to announce that Dr. Judith Owens, Director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, will join us in the BHS Auditorium Thursday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. to share her expertise on the benefits of a later school start time for teenagers,” a notice from the school department states.

The idea of having later start times for the high school was taken up in earnest last year and was the subject of multiple discussions at School Committee meetings. At one meeting in October Superintendent Eric Conti cited Dr. Owen’s work when talking about the science of teenagers and sleep.

Conti started out by going over some of the “myths and misconceptions” around later start times. These include “teens would go to sleep earlier if their parents made them”, “some teens might need nine hours of sleep but mine are fine with just six”, “if school starts later they’ll just stay up later” and “teens can just make up lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends.”

He said Owens’ research shows that both sleep time and sleep timing are “biological imperatives” that differ for teens and adults. In the presentation Owens says it is almost impossible for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. due to internal clocks in the brain and in each cell in the body that “must be synchronized with one another and the environment.” She says teens tend to have an internal clock “forbidden zone” between 8 and 11 p.m. where falling asleep is very difficult.

Earlier school start times, Owens argues, mean teens’ sleep rhythms are often off, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep and to wake up.

Owens will be talking about this and more on Thursday evening.


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