Sleep issues arise for students due to online classes
By Lea Kopke
Press Times News Intern
GREEN BAY – A student’s sleep schedule is typically ruled by school hours, extracurricular activities and after-school jobs.
However, Safer-at-Home orders in response to COVID-19 completely altered these daily routines for thousands of students.
Luke Pisani, a recent graduate from Green Bay Southwest High School, said online classes allowed for students to stay up even later than usual.
He said this was because there was much less structure to school days.
“You’re giving us students basically a kind of six-month summer vacation,” Pisani said, “Even though we were still in school, we have all this freedom to create new schedules for ourselves and new habits. That’s going to change a whole lot.”
April Shepherd, facility director of sleep medicine at Bellin Hospital, said it’s possible online classes caused additional sleep issues in students.
Most classes either started later in the day or consisted of independent work, she said, meaning students could choose to go to bed and wake up whenever they wanted.
“It happens all the time,” Shepherd said. “The underlying issue is in part genetic, and in part behavioral. It’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome, something that teenagers deal with all the time.”
She said students should begin preparing for the school year a few weeks before school starts, so their bodies can adjust to new sleep schedules.
She recommends students struggling with sleep schedules should try to go to sleep around midnight or 1 a.m. so they can get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep.
Students whose sleep schedules are delayed by five-plus hours past a typical bedtime will have to fix their internal clock, Shepherd said.
To fix this, she recommended two options.
“The easiest way is to go forward around the clock,” Shepherd said. “Stay up later and later every day until you reach your desired bedtime. Start with five in the morning, seven, eight and so on.”
For students whose daily responsibilities mean they cannot sleep through the day, she recommends using melatonin to instead move backwards.
She said they must stick to the same bedtime every day and cut out screen time half an hour before bed.
Shepherd said a lot more teenagers struggle with sleep issues than people may realize.
Pisani’s experiences echoed her thoughts.
He said both himself and many of his classmates struggle with getting enough sleep during the school year.
“Me personally, I have rarely gotten enough sleep since middle school started,” Pisani said. “It’s a mix of stress from school and other things… It’s a cycle. If someone has trouble sleeping, their schoolwork gets worse and it all goes hand-in-hand.”
Start time change?
Jeremy Wildenberg, district transportation manager and a committee member of the School Start Time Task Force, said the team met June 4 to continue its work.
“We met with a number of staff from various departments as well as school board members to discuss how we might move forward,” Wildenberg said. “What we were tasked to do is look a little deeper into the actual effects of if we were to move forward.”
He said COVID-19 has made this job more difficult, because district administrators need to put planning for next school year as their first priority.
Any decision, he said, needs to be supported by the school board, superintendent and community at-large.
Wildenberg said he believes the earliest later start times would likely be implemented is the 2022-23 school year.
Shepherd said she supports delaying school start times, because research shows students who don’t get enough sleep often struggle with drowsiness, falling asleep in class and drops in their grades.
“This has been discussed for years in almost every state,” Shepherd said. “Start times at 7 or 8 a.m. are probably just too early.”