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Poll of school board members finds support for later start times

Here's something teenagers might not want to hear: someone else telling them to get more sleep.

This time it is the New York State School Boards Association, which asked school board members what they think of starting school later in the day.

Most are in favor.

The poll found that 59% of school board members who responded are in favor of starting the school day for high schoolers at a later time. More than half of those responding said sleep deprivation is a major problem among high school students. More than one-quarter of board members, 28.5%, said they were not in favor of changing the time of the first bell, while about 12.5% were unsure.

Teenagers should sleep about nine hours each night, according to experts.

"Teenagers require a lot of sleep," said Dr. Daniel I. Rifkin, medical director of Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York. "Very few teenagers get that amount of sleep."

The website has a sleep calculator which calculates when someone should go to bed to get the recommended amount of sleep based on the time he or she wants to wake up.

One of the changes that takes place during puberty is a shift in the sleep-wake cycle to a later time, he said. Their bodies aren't ready to fall asleep until 10 or 11 p.m., he said. The use of cellphones and other electronic devices in the evening also can put off sleep. The light from the screen can affect the body's production of melatonin, which usually increases in the evening and helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, he said.

The school boards association poll found a number of difficulties in starting high school later in the day. Interscholastic athletics was named by 82% of board members as the "main logistical problem." Contests often occur in the afternoon an hour or two after school ends.

Sporting events have not posed a problem for Clarence Central High School, which has started at close to 9 a.m. for more than 50 years. Students attend games and matches after school, and sometimes leave class early for an away game, according to an administrator.

Other problems that were cited by school board members as reasons why the change would be difficult were after-school activities and bus schedules.

The poll of 378 school board members selected at random was taken between Sept. 24 and Tuesday.


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