Sleep In FairfaxJanuary 17, 2012

Fairfax County Youth Survey: Two-thirds of FCPS 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders Still Suffering from Sleep Debt 


The latest Fairfax County Youth Survey reveals that 90 percent of Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students are sleeping less than the recommended 9 hours on school nights.  "Unfortunately, given the very early school start times in Fairfax, these results are to be expected. FCPS asks high school families to fight Mother Nature and it's a losing battle." said Terry Tuley, SLEEP Chair (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal), a grassroots organization that has been working to increase awareness of teen sleep needs and to advocate for healthier bell schedules.


This is the second year that the Fairfax County Youth Survey Team has included a question about sleep, and the results are virtually identical. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recognized the importance of this data, which will be very helpful to researchers focused on learning more about teen sleep habits and the impact that sleep loss has on our children.


According to a recent study on teens and sleep by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Insufficient sleep is associated with a variety of health-risk behaviors, including physical inactivity, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, fighting, and being sexually active."


"It's troubling to consider how the lack of sleep mars the high school experience for many of our local students who are often too exhausted to even stay awake for all of their classes. " said Phyllis Payne, SLEEP Co-founder. "We've heard from neighbors in Loudoun who love their 9 a.m. start times and would love to have healthy start times for our children, too. Even 8 a.m. would be a welcome change."


According to the data in The 2010 Fairfax County Youth Survey Report:

  • Two-thirds of FCPS 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students report sleeping 7 hours or less on an average school night;
  • Thirty-seven percent report sleeping 6 hours or less;
  • Sixteen percent report sleeping 5 hours or less; and,
  • Five percent report sleeping 4 hours or less.

This shows severe deficits from the 9 hours of sleep that experts recommend for children in this age group. The problem gets more serious as the children get older, and the percentage who report sleeping at least 8 hours on an average school night declines:

  • Fifty-four percent of 8th graders;
  • Twenty-seven percent of 10th graders; and,
  • Seventeen percent of 12th graders.
"It's especially sad that FCPS has made no progress toward finding solutions since the school board deadlocked over this issue in 2009." said Ms. Tuley. "Hopefully, the new school board will find ways to provide immediate relief to tired teens."


Puberty shifts the body clock of teenagers to a later sleep-wake cycle, making it extremely difficult for teens to get enough sleep when school starts early in the morning. Teens may try to go to bed earlier and simply not be able to fall asleep.


Studies comparing student sleep habits in school districts with early start times to school districts with later morning start times show that teen students sleep more when school schedules are later. The speculation that teens will just "stay up later" is a myth. When school clocks are aligned with student body clocks, students get more sleep. Melatonin, the hormone that makes people feel sleepy, is released later in teens, which explains why it is so hard for them to fall asleep much before 11 p.m.


Adequate sleep is necessary for growth and development. It's a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep is a foundation for quality of life, health, mental health, safety, learning, and productivity. Experts in the field of sleep and learning agree that school start times after 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. are best for teen learning.


"Many adolescents are not getting the recommended hours of sleep they need on school nights.  Insufficient sleep is associated with participation in a number of health-risk behaviors including substance use, physical fighting, and serious consideration of suicide attempt," said Lela McKnight-Eily, PhD, CDC Division of Adult and Community Health.  "Public health intervention is greatly needed, and the consideration of delayed school start times may hold promise as one effective step in a comprehensive approach to address this problem."


To learn where the 2012 school board members stand on the issue of healthy school start times, please visit  

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