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Parents Discuss Sleep Deprivation

Dr. Helen Emsellem talks about the effects of loss of sleep on teens.

<bt>Concerned parents met at the McLean High school last week to hear Dr. Helene Emsellem from the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders tallk about the effects of sleep deficiencies in teens. The program, sponsored by S.L.E.E.P., Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal, outlined the ill effects from lack of sleep which includes lack of concentration, slower reaction times, poor auditory function, impaired cognitive and motor functions. Emsellem said that if our bodies aren't pulling enough REM sleep that we try to catch up during the day. "We lose sound bites which convert to losing part of math or chemistry class and we may never fully learn the concepts of that particular subject," said Emsellem. She added that it's important to realize that if your kids are sleeping in on the weekends to make up for the lack of sleep during the week that they are really just resetting their body clocks. This transitions to a later sleep time on Sunday night and with an early get up on Monday the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation starts all over again.

S.L.E.E.P. co-founder, Sandy Evans, said, "our main goal is to see high schools and middle schools start classes later in the morning. Most start at 7:20 a. m. and we feel that it's mentally and academically unhealthy for the students. A later start time would not only enhance their educational experience, but provide a better family life and enhance their overall experiences."

Most area school districts agree and have changed their schedules to accommodate the sleep needs of students. However, Fairfax County is lagging behind. The major stumbling block is the intricate matrix of bus schedules that cost the county approximately $87 million. Transportation consultants were hired last year to determine the feasibility of a new bus routing plan. However, a Phase I plan showed that costs could increase current figures by 50 percent-- and was not something the county board was willing to fund said Evans.

The phase II plan is up for a vote on March 9th and Evans says that S.L.E.E.P. wants the board to consider different ways to transport academy and GT center students or to take a look at combining some low volume routes. "We know that Fairfax County is complicated, but a 50 percent increase is just not reasonable, " said Evans.

Susan Belardi, Head of Health and Wellness at McLean High School said, "we are looking for a solution and the more we inform the community the closer we may get to our goals."

Emsellen said that it's a fact that kids need 9.25 hours of sleep nightly to function properly. "In a perfect scenario, without considering any other factors," said Emsellem, "kids would start school at 10 a. m. They are awake and functioning by then." For more information about how you can help facilitate change go to www.sleepinfairfax.org. or email your Fairfax county school board representative. Also, for additional information about teen sleep issues check out www.nationalsleepfoundation.org.