Letter: Nobel Prize proves importance of healthy school start times

Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on circadian biology. They found that circadian rhythms align with the Earth’s rotation and cannot be altered for convenience.

Synchronizing our internal clocks presents a significant health challenge. Synchronicity allows sleep to occur when we are able to heal and when our brains are primed for maintenance and memory solidification. RHS’s too-early start times interfere with the natural cycle of adolescent sleep and are damaging to student health.

The science linking circadian rhythms to health cannot be denied. Yet there is confusion about why healthy start times lead to more sleep, better quality sleep, and improved health.

When sleep aligns with circadian rhythms, quality of sleep improves. Information retention and emotional/physical healing improve because these functions occur during the latest phases of circadian rhythm sleep (approximately 5 to 8 a.m. for adolescents).

Efficiency and productivity increase. We know this to be true in our own experience: We are better at our jobs and life in general when we get quality sleep. The science validates what we experience.

Students who sleep in sync with circadian rhythms have better retention, so they spend less time studying. They are more efficient and productive, so they finish homework more quickly. They get more sleep and better-quality sleep, which is why we see improvements in mental health (emotional healing improves), academic performance (better retention/storing of information), and faster recovery from athletic injuries (improved physical healing).

Dr. Baldwin and the BOE have acknowledged that current start times are harmful to student health. They now have validation from Nobel Prize winners. Later start times for adolescents result in more and better sleep, which in turn improves mental and physical health. It’s time to do the right thing.

Pam Hartnett MPH, RD

Mimosa Circle, Oct. 9