Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Child Who Sleeps Wins!

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A few weeks back a video clip for CNN featured author of NutureShock, Po Bronson.

The clip prompted last week’s sleep column, but by the time I had completed my 600-word maximum, I had completely left out any mention of what Po Bronson had to say. And he had lots to say…

In the clip, the CNN anchor took the lead. “Parents, what's the difference between raising an A student and a B student?

Fifteen minutes.

And we're not talking about study time, we're talking about sleep.”

During the interview Po Bronson said, “One school district started an hour later. The SAT scores of the best and brightest went up 200 points.”

You know my stance on the importance of sleep. If only I could go door-to-door every night and collect all cell phones, computers, gaming systems and MP3 players from all the teens in the world. I can’t. What I can do is share information with you that might lead to different choices.

During the interview, Mr. Bronson shared some of the research reported in his book.
Bronson featured a Rhode Island researcher, Dr. Avi Sadeh, a leading expert in the field.

In one study Sadeh asked 77 fourth- and sixth-graders to change their sleep patterns for three nights. Some were asked to stay up longer and some were told to go to bed earlier.

To measure sleep time, each child used a wrist device called an actigraph, which measures sleep activity. After evaluating the results, it was determined that one group did actually sleep thirty minutes more, while the second group slept 31 minutes less.

To see if this made a difference in the child’s ability to perform, neurobiological functioning was tested on the third day. The results were surprising. Sadeh’s conclusions were that a sleepy sixth-grader will be at the same performance level as a rested fourth grader.

Sadeh’s not the only researcher who is reporting the consequences of small sleep differences.

In reference to the “15 minute” remark, two important studies give plenty of ammunition for the importance of sleeping and amounts.

Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, University of Minnesota, evaluated the sleep habits of more than 7,000 high school students.

Turns out that the A students averaged approximately fifteen more minutes of sleep than the B teens. And the students who made mostly B’s slept about eleven more minutes than the students who made mostly C’s. The C’s slept on average ten more minutes than the D students. What might be even more surprising is that this study replicated the results of a similar study done in Rhode Island of more than 3,000 teens.

A small number of schools are taking sleep researchers seriously by backing up school start times. According to Po Bronson, one of the best known is a school located in Edina, Minnesota. The time changed from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

“In the year preceding the time change, math and verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of Edina’s students averaged 1288. A year later, the top 10 percent averaged 1500, an increase that couldn’t be attributed to any other variable.

“Truly flabbergasting,” said Brian O’Reilly, the College Board’s executive director for SAT Program Relations on hearing the results.

Maybe Po Bronson said it best in a 2007 article he wrote for the New York Times. “Parents and educators might remain skeptical about the importance of the lost hour, but the sleep-research community considers the evidence irrefutable. Their convictions hardened as scientists began to understand sleep’s vital role in synthesizing and storing memories.”

Allyn Evans
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