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New Research: Early School Start Times Are Unhealthy For Kids

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Long before the sun comes up, many Maryland families are trying to beat the clock to make it to school on time. But new research shows it's actually unhealthy to drag teens out of bed so early. Now several Maryland counties are considering whether they should change school start times.

Denise Koch has more.

All across Maryland, alarm clocks ring before the crack of dawn. Snooze buttons take a beating from sleep-deprived teens. It's an age-old battle between parents and kids to get out of bed and get to school.

"You can sleep for 10 more minutes," said Marie Kovacs.

Marie Kovacs is doing her best to convince 15-year-old Christine it's time to get up. It's not easy. You need a big pot of coffee when the school bell rings at 7:17 a.m.

Christine, a sophomore at Broadneck High School in Annapolis, is wiped out. Like other teens, she is severely sleep deprived.

"A massive difference," she said. "I'm exhausted all the time. All the time."

She's not alone. Doctors say teenagers' biological clocks are naturally geared toward later bedtimes and later wake-up times.

"They cannot get the sleep that they need based on when they have to wake up," said Dr. Jennifer Accardo, director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic and Lab at Kennedy Krieger.

Now, Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties are exploring later start times.

The national organization "Start School Later" points to cities like Minneapolis, where it's working. Starting school just an hour and 10 minutes later resulted in improved attendance, a decrease in teen depression and fewer behavioral problems.

"It's been done all over the country. It's not an impossible dream to run schools at a safe, healthy time," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, Start School Later.

But school systems have plenty to figure out, including complicated bus schedules, after school activities, parent/student work schedules and daycare.

"It's not a simple, `Oh, here's how we fix that,' because if there was a simple `Here's how we fix that,' every school system would be doing it," said Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County Schools.

But the way it is now just isn't working. After school activities mean some teens don't even start their homework until late at night.

"You're getting home by 10, then you still have to shower and some of us still have homework to finish," Christine said.

It's physically and mentally exhausting. Doctors say it's a serious problem that's harming our kids.

"They're being dealt a losing hand," Accardo said.

And forcing kids to go without enough sleep and work against their natural patterns can cause problems.

"They're making decisions about academics, relationships, driving," Accardo said. "It becomes really terrifying."

Christine's mom worries.

"I don't think it's ever been easy to be a teenager but I don't think it's ever been harder," she said.

"We're the new generation. Technology is changing and culture is changing, so why not change the school time?" Christine said. "Please?"

School districts are considering options that include starting high schools at the same time as middle schools, starting high schools after elementary schools or moving all school start times later.

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