We are Hudson parents and advocates who have worked or currently work with children in elementary, middle school and high school in Hudson School District. Over the past two years, we have met individually with administration and made public comments at School Board meetings requesting the district address current school start times to be more supportive of healthy wake times for all students (K-12).
In 2016, HSD conducted a survey about school calendar issues and included an exploratory question about start times. Over 75% of respondents said they wanted the district to "explore a change to school start times.” In 2020, HSD formed the School Start Time Committee. Unfortunately, due to the emerging pandemic the committee was forced to pause its efforts.
We are thrilled HSD has moved to bring the committee back together and begin their work again in 2021. A community conversation between HSD, students, parents, teachers and administrators about healthy school start times for Hudson schools is past due.
Over 16 professional medical and public health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatric and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reviewed research on sleep and child development and found:
● Adolescents need at least eight hours of sleep, while younger children need nine to 12 hours of sleep.
● Adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to:
● experience depressive symptoms;
● engage in risky behaviors (e.g., drinking alcohol, using illicit drugs, and smoking cigarettes);
● have poor academic and athletic performance; and
● be overweight and not get enough physical activity.
● Because of their developing brains, most adolescents are biologically not able to fall asleep at the same time they did when they were younger. Meaning this is not an issue of simply getting to bed on-time or earlier; adolescent brain development shifts the natural time adolescents are ready and able to fall asleep.
Studies have looked further at the intersection of sleep and mental health, and sleep and our bodies' immune response (ability to fight infection). A few key findings from several of these studies include:
● When other predictors are controlled for (e.g., gender, age, race), adolescents who do not get sufficient sleep, compared to those who do, are more likely to report poor mental health including an increased risk for suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide).
● While other factors like physical activity and the school environment (e.g., bullying, and perceived school safety) also independently influence the risk of poor mental health, sufficient sleep appears to be one of the strongest independent predictors of risk.
● While physical activity has been found to reduce the risk of poor mental health, sufficient sleep is connected to the ability to be physically active.
● Sleep is connected with our body’s immune system. When individuals chronically experience insufficient sleep or troubled sleep, there is a negative impact on the body’s immune system reducing its ability to properly function and putting the individual at increased risk for infection and illness.
No earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The strong and consistent recommendation of medical and child development experts is to set school start times beginning no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to allow for healthy wake times for children and adolescents and positively support their physical, mental and emotional development.
While there are sociocultural influences on sleep hygiene (e.g., use of personal devices into the evening hours to watch TV, play video games, engage in social media, and use of caffeine), these influences are not unique to adolescents. When coupled with the biological changes in adolescent sleep patterns, these influences exacerbate the ability to gain sufficient sleep.
School districts have limited ability to change or mitigate the impact of sociocultural influences; rather these changes primarily reside at the individual and family level with creating and adopting habits that will support good sleep hygiene not only for children but the whole family (e.g., limiting use of personal devices in the evening hours, removing TV’s from bedrooms and limiting use of caffeine).
The ability of school districts to support sufficient sleep is through adopting and implementing school policies and procedures: These are known as system-level changes.
Many school districts across the country, and in our region, have implemented later start times for middle school and high school. These districts have worked with teachers, students and parents to make adjustments that will help students become successful academically, and support healthy physical and mental development. It should be noted, these districts have found by starting school later there has been an increase in attendance, an increase in graduation rates, and a positive trend toward higher GPAs.
In fact, many of us have witnessed positive changes in our own children as HSD has adjusted the instructional model for middle school and high school from in-person to hybrid or distance learning, which allowed for healthier wakeup times over the past year. That said, we also want to clearly acknowledge and support families whose children experienced negative mental health impacts during the distance and hybrid learning models that were in place spring 2020 and winter 2020/2021. Those experiences are not to be pushed aside or minimized in this discussion and must also be attended to.
We know there are many questions about the impact of moving school start times later, such as:
● What would happen to sport practice and games if schools started later?
● What would happen to busing if school started later?
● How would starting middle school and high school later impact elementary school start times?
These are important questions for our community to talk about, and the great thing is we have the benefit of learning from other communities to find a solution that meets the needs of Hudson.
Candidates, please answer
As our community prepares to elect three school board members, we are posing the following questions to all candidates. We ask that candidates respond via a response letter to the Hudson Star Observer (as well as their candidate webpages or FaceBook pages) so community members can read the candidates’ responses.
1) What changes in HSD policy would you seek to further support the overall mental health and wellbeing of HSD students and staff?
2) What is your stance on school start times?
3) Noting it has taken HSD four years to act on data collected by the district, what concrete changes would you seek regarding HSD’s approach to implementing community surveys for feedback and guidance to ensure timely reporting and action on survey results?
We appreciate this opportunity to raise awareness about an important issue that is impacting our adolescents and families. It is our hope that as a community we can come together to support our teens by allowing them the opportunity to get the rest they need in order to be at their physical, emotional and academic best.
The authors are Jen Heriot, Hudson parent; Tammy Moothedan, Hudson parent; Jennifer Crim, Hudson parent, graduate student in University of Wisconsin-Stout Marriage & Family Therapy; Kelly Delahunty, MD, director of mental and behavioral health at Hudson Physicians; Jessie Saul, Hudson parent, PhDl Maria Rudie, Hudson parent, MPH.
We are providing a list of sources we have reviewed in development of this letter. The list is not exhaustive of all the academic literature on the issues of adolescents and sleep, but provides readers with the ability to review sources and engage in evidence-based and evidence-informed discussions.
● Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Schools: Sleep and Health. Available at www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/sleep.htm.
● ADOLESCENT SLEEP WORKING GROUP, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE and COUNCIL ON SCHOOL HEALTH. Pediatrics September 2014, 134 (3) 642-649; DOI doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-1697.
● Start School Later. List of Organizations Supporting Later School Start Times. Available at www.startschoollater.net/position-statements.html
● Minges KE, Redeker NS. Delayed school start times and adolescent sleep: A systematic review of the experimental evidence. Sleep Med Rev. 2016 Aug;28:86-95. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2015.06.002. Epub 2015 Jun 29. PMID: 26545246; PMCID: PMC4844764.
● Baiden P, Tadeo SK, Tonui BC, Seastrunk JD, Boateng GO. Association between insufficient sleep and suicidal ideation among adolescents. Psychiatry Res. 2020 May;287:112579. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.112579. Epub 2019 Sep 23. PMID: 31627959.
● Pfledderer CD, Burns RD, Brusseau TA. School environment, physical activity, and sleep as predictors of suicidal ideation in adolescents: Evidence from a national survey. J Adolesc. 2019 Jul;74:83-90. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 Jun 5. PMID: 31176240.
● \u0009Judith Owens, ADOLESCENT SLEEP WORKING GROUP, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE Pediatrics Sep 2014, 134 (3) e921-e932; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-1696
● McKnight-Eily, L.R., et al., Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students, Prev. Med. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.06.020.
● Owens JA, Weiss MR. Insufficient sleep in adolescents: causes and consequences. Minerva Pediatr. 2017 Aug;69(4):326-336. doi: 10.23736/S0026-4946.17.04914-3. Epub 2017 Feb 17. PMID: 28211649.
● Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012 Jan;463(1):121-37. doi: 10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0. Epub 2011 Nov 10. PMID: 22071480; PMCID: PMC3256323.
● Lange T, Dimitrov S, Born J. Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Apr;1193:48-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05300.x. PMID: 20398008.
● TED Talk: How Sleep can Improve your Immunity. Matthew Walker, PhD.