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40 winks? We're lucky to get 25

Late to bed and early to rise may be hampering high schoolers' educations.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 3, 2002

Long before the sun comes up during the school year, and sometimes even before the roosters crow, hundreds of yellow school buses have been traveling the streets of the Tampa Bay area to pick up high schoolers as early as 5:30 a.m.

Thank goodness summer vacation is upon us.

My public high school starts at 7:20 a.m., so during certain times of year I got to first period in time to watch the sun rise. One by one, my fellow students would stagger in, half asleep.

"I'm just confused as to why kindergarteners have nap time (in school) and high schoolers don't," said Lindsay Hebert, a 15-year-old completing her freshman year in the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School.

The recommended amount of sleep for a teenager is 9 to 9 1/2 hours, according to Dr. William Kohler, pediatric sleep specialist at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs. To get that amount of sleep and wake up at 6 a.m., I would have to be asleep at 9 p.m. How realistic is that? With homework, extra curricular activities and, last but not least, a little time to breathe, it is nearly impossible.

Jr. Dominguez, 15, also just completing his freshman year in the St. Petersburg High IB program, agrees that he doesn't get enough sleep at night, but somehow he has developed coping skills.

"On average I get six hours of sleep a night, and miraculously I still have enough energy for basketball and homework," he says.

Many teenagers do compensate for their lack of sleep with afternoon naps. "Naps are God's gift to high schoolers," said IB freshman Katie Hermann, 15.

Kohler advises that "early morning bright light (phototherapy), plus a good diet and regular exercise" could help to alleviate some of the sluggishness from lack of sleep.

Teachers note that learning often suffers because of the sleep problem. Teenage biorhythms shift, too; it is normal to fall asleep later as you grow older, which makes getting needed sleep hours tough."Students in my first period class are extremely tired. Sleep deprivation is evident in many high school students," says Susan Harrod, who teaches ninth-grade IB Inquiry Skills.

"Lack of sleep can cause difficulty concentrating, irritability and may contribute to depression," Kohler adds.

During summer vacation some teens will go to camp, others will get jobs, and many will stay home and attempt to catch up on 10 months of lost sleep, as if that were possible.

Summer may help cure the bags under my eyes, but this year the cure will be short-lived, thanks to this bonus: My school resumes Aug. 7.

With three years left before I graduate, I still have miles to go before I sleep.

Mandi-Lou Schantz Feld, 14, is completing the ninth grade in the St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate Program.

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