ANNANDALE, Va. – Sleep is an important part of academic success and in Fairfax County, some parents are fighting to give high school students a few more hours of it.
Parents and teachers gathered at Annandale High School Tuesday for the county’s first “Sleep Night,” where a sleep expert presented findings from her study on a school that moved to a later start times.
“Adolsecents aren’t hard wired to go to sleep much before 11 o’clock. We also know they need about 9 hours of sleep,” says Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center.
“If you do the math, they can’t fall asleep before 11, they wake up at 8 to get adequate sleep, and if school starts at 7:15, it’s not gonna happen.”
Fairfax County parents have been lobbying for a later school start time for several years. Through Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP), they have been asking the county to push back the current start time of 7:20 a.m.
The Fairfax County School Board has hired a consultant to look at starting school after 8 a.m. A final report is due this spring.
A big issue in both cases is the cost of transportation since school bus routes would have to be altered.
Parent groups in Fairfax County and Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland have been sharing resources in their efforts for later start times.
Parents in all three school districts have circulated petitions that now have thousands of signatures asking for earlier start times for high school students.
Owens told parents Tuesday night that 80 percent of adolescents get less than the nine hours of recommended sleep. However, 71 percent of parents think their teenage child gets enough sleep.
Some parents pushing for a later sleep time say the problem runs deeper.
“She’s going through depression, anxiety — and the neurologists diagnosed a sleep disorder,” says Geena Masterson, a parent of a teen daughter.
Bianca Gilbert, a math teacher at James Madison High in Vienna says she has two students in particular who are tired everyday.
“I’m constantly like, ‘Wake up! Wake up! Stay awake!'”
But, not everyone is buying it.
“I have a son who’s almost 14 years old, he goes to bed every night at 9:30, he gets up every morning at 5:30. I don’t have to drag him out of bed,” says parent Matthew Christian.
Several area school districts, including Arlington and Loudoun counties and the city of Alexandria, have already pushed back the start time for high schools until after 8 a.m.
Read all the findings from Dr. Judith Owens sleep study:
WTOP’s Ari Ashe and Hank Silverberg contributed to this report.