By Megan Erbacher Courier & Press
---- — EVANSVILLE – Raegan Ball, 17, admitted he isn’t sure that he ever gets enough sleep. Between juggling his school day, play and musical practices, a job and homework, the North High School senior said some days he is more tired than others, but he’s always kind of sleepy. “No matter how long I sleep, I feel like I never catch up,” he said. Research and common sense prove many teens struggle to roll out of bed around 6 a.m. to get on the bus or arrive at school on time. That was a recent message from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who said it would benefit teenagers to start school at a later time so they are better prepared to learn and concentrate. Confessing he isn’t afraid to sometimes hit the snooze button, Ball estimates he goes to sleep around 11 p.m. or midnight, often later during strenuous play and musical rehearsals, and receives on average five or six hours of rest. Ball wakes up around 6 a.m. and aims to be at school between 6:50 and 7 a.m. When staying at his dad’s house, Ball leaves around 6:15 a.m. to get to school on time. He doesn’t usually drink caffeine in the morning, instead powering up with something like yogurt or Pop Tarts. “I can usually wake up enough by the time I’m in class to understand what is going on,” he said. “And if it’s a subject that I really do need to work on, that I know I am having trouble in, then I’ll make sure and be completely aware of what’s going on so I can understand what they’re talking about and learn as much as possible.” Students riding the bus to North are dropped off about 7 a.m., when they quickly fill the food court/commons area before the bell rings at 7:35 a.m. signaling the start of the day. Teenagers require between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep, said Dr. John Rodrigues, medical director of St. Mary’s sleep disorder center, but the problem with teenage sleep is their onset doesn’t naturally occur until around 11 p.m. Rodrigues said many studies have been conducted in countries to try to define the reason, and some say it could be cultural pressures that cause teens to stay awake later. However, Rodrigues said the melatonin biologically secreted before a person falls asleep happens later in teenagers, which explains the times they tend to fall asleep. If a high schooler falls asleep at 11 p.m., ideally he would not wake until 8 a.m., he said. “That’s not in sync because we are demanding that our kids wake up earlier in the morning to get to school, and then they end up being sleepy during the first couple classes and then they end up having problems,” he said. Rodrigues compared teenagers “catching up” on sleep during the weekends to starving your body of nutrients during the week and then gorging on food over the weekend. “My kids have grown up, but I clearly remember on weekends how late they would be sleeping,” he said. “And my wife would say, ‘Is this something that we should be allowing them to do?’ And the thing is that sleeping late on weekends is not a symptom of laziness, it’s a symptom of the fact that the kids are not getting enough sleep during the week so they are trying to catch up on weekends.” When the Minneapolis Public School District pushed start times in seven high schools back from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., researchers at the University of Minnesota found students gained about an hour of sleep a day. They also found an increase in attendance and alertness.