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Hit the snooze: High school starts too early

In the 2003 remake of “Freaky Friday,” one of the opening scenes shows a mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) struggling to wake her daughter (Lindsay Lohan) for school. The mom’s gentle nudging quickly reduces to cover ripping, tugging at her daughter’s feet and screaming.

That’s the movies, and we know real life is different. It’s much worse.

Try waking up a teenager every weekday at 6:30 a.m. – the same teen who was up late the night before, studying and unable to fall asleep until 1 a.m. It’s not fun, and I have the emotional and physical scars to prove it. 

Sleep researchers say teens need eight to nine hours of sleep each night to function best. Cutting that short every day leads to a pattern of sleep deprivation that puts them at higher risk for depression, car accidents and other serious problems. 

Yet very few teens I know are clocking those kind of zzz-hours. Instead, their crazy schedules are vicious no-sleep cycles similar to my daughter’s: Awake at 6:30 a.m. (which is really 6:45 a.m., once the hysterics subside), scramble out the door by 7 a.m. to get to school by first bell at 7:15 a.m. 

With classes until 2:20 p.m., and track practice until 5 p.m., my teenager usually rolls home by 5:30 p.m., when she crashes for a good two-hour nap out of sheer exhaustion. We’ll eat dinner around 7:30 p.m., and she’ll be up for the next five hours, studying and doing homework. 

This isn’t due to lack of discipline and reasonable bed times or poor planning. Sleep scientists say that many teenagers are simply unable to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and that early high school start times conflict with their shifting circadian rhythms. 

The consequences go beyond just feeling tired all the time. Not getting enough sleep can limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation. You may forget important information. Lack of sleep also can make you prone to pimples and other skin problems. It can lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior, such as yelling or being impatient with friends, teachers and family members. It can cause you to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods, such as sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain. 

Sound familiar? 

I’ve heard a few reasons why it’s difficult to start high school later in the morning. They involve school bus transportation schedules and after-school athletics practice times. But what’s more important here? The status quo of buses and sports teams? Or the health and success of our kids?

Parents in a bunch of other states and places have started petitions to pass legislation that would prohibit starting school before 8 a.m. So far, South Florida is not among them. What are we waiting for?