This is my daily effort to discover good things people do around the planet. I’m planning to engage in these searches six days a week. I will gladly post your contributions regarding good human behavior, no matter how trivial they may seem to you (or, frankly, to me). Please join me on this trip and tell your friends.


When Does Life Begin? Around 11

Years ago, my wife told me about the sleep cycles of teenagers, which is different from that of the rest of us. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep to do their best and naturally go to sleep around 11 p.m.. The teen my wife and I are harboring in our house easily beats that record and often stays up well into the wee hours. I remember behaving very similarly when I was in my teens, more likely to watch the sun rise than set before I shut my eyes.
 One way to let teenagers get more sleep is:


Teens' natural sleep cycle puts them in conflict with school start times. They are like zombies getting ready for school and find it hard to be alert and pay attention in class. They are sleepy all day and cannot do their best.

Schools that have set later bell times find that students do not go to bed later, but get one hour more of sleep per school night, which means five hours more per week. Attendance improves and students are more likely to be on time when school starts. Teens are more alert in the morning and in better moods; they are less likely to feel depressed or need to visit the nurse or school counselor. (Teens and Sleep)
A notoriously rebellious teenager and a high school dropout, I always knew intuitively that schools set their schedules to serve the needs of everyone, except students. And, incidentally, when the NSF is talking about schools' "later bell times," they mean 8:30 instead of 7:30 a.m. Why not start school at 11 in the morning and go through, say, 7 p.m.? Most likely because this would cut into the evening plans of school administrators and teachers. Yes, I was also a teacher at one point in my life, and I know schools serve the needs of board members, then principals, then teachers and custodians, then parents and, at the bottom of the pyramid of needs, students.


I was delighted, therefore, to discover that a systematic review of 10 studies by The Cochrane Collaboration found that employees who have more control over their schedules see improvements in both physical and mental health, which lead to fewer medical claims.

Overall, the research found that workers with flexible work schedules have fewer incidences of high blood pressure, sleep better, have better mental health, and are more alert than those working more rigid schedules. (Christian Schappel, Study reveals surprising way to improve employee health, HR Morning)

Conversely, Clare Bambra, PhD, of Durham University in the U.K. and her colleagues at the Cochrane Review found that mandatory overtime and fixed-term contracts had absolutely no positive effects on health outcomes.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of 10 studies that assessed the health effects of different working arrangements -- those that favor the worker, and those dictated by employers. Arrangements included self-scheduling, flextime, overtime, gradual retirement, involuntary part-time, and fixed-term contracts. The 10 studies included 16,603 participants.

One study showed improvements in mental health, sleep quality on the day shift, sleep duration on the night shift, and alertness during the night shift when employees had more control over their schedules. Another found significant decreases in systolic blood pressure and heart rate for workers with flexible scheduling.
Bambra called for further investigation of subgroups involved. "We need to know more about how the health effects of flexible working are experienced by different types of workers," she said. "For example, women compared to men, old compared to young, skilled compared to unskilled." (Kristina Fiore, Employees Healthier when Boss Is Flexible, MedPage Today)


My favorite right wing columnist, George Will, cites this morning from NutureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, designed "to torment modern parents who are determined to bring to bear on their offspring the accumulated science of child-rearing." Will suggests that "the theory that praise, self-esteem and accomplishment increase in tandem is false. Children incessantly praised for their intelligence (often by parents who are really praising themselves) often underrate the importance of effort. Children who open their lunchboxes and find mothers' handwritten notes telling them how amazingly bright they are tend to falter when they encounter academic difficulties. Also, Bronson and Merryman say that overpraised children are prone to cheating because they have not developed strategies for coping with failure."
Our children also cause a great deal more death by car crash than the rest of us, double, in fact. Will cites a Johns Hopkins University study which found that some school districts that abolished driver's education courses experienced a 27 percent decrease in auto accidents among 16- and 17-year-olds. That’s because teenagers are in fatal crashes at twice the rate of other drivers because of poor decisions. The wiring in the frontal lobe of the teenage brain is not fully formed. Driver's ed courses make getting a license easy, thereby increasing the supply of young drivers who actually have holes in their heads. 

Here’s a Georgewillian paragraph you can Xerox and frame: Only 5 percent of high school seniors get eight hours of sleep a night. Children get an hour less than they did 30 years ago, which subtracts IQ points and adds body weight.

But Will is even more merciless (less merciful?) with school administrators, teachers and parents, the pyramid of hierarchies I mentioned earlier: "The school day starts too early because that is convenient for parents and teachers. Awakened at dawn, teenage brains are still releasing melatonin, which makes them sleepy. This is one reason young adults are responsible for half of the 100,000 annual ‘fall asleep’ automobile crashes. When Edina, Minn., changed its high school start from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., math/verbal SAT scores rose substantially. Furthermore, sleep loss increases the hormone that stimulates hunger and decreases the one that suppresses appetite. Hence the correlation between less sleep and more obesity." (G.F. Will, How to ruin a child: Too much esteem, too little sleep, the Washington Post)


The debate over when should teenagers be expected to come to school is raging as we speak in Lake Oswego, Oregon. According to Nicole Dungca, in The Oregonian (Lake Oswego high schoolers to school board: we want more sleep), Several Lakeridge High School students pleaded with school board members Wednesday night to avoid choosing a new schedule with a start time of 7:20 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than the current schedule.

At the Wednesday night public hearing at Lakeridge High School, superintendent Bill Korach of the Lake Oswego School District presented three different schedules as a way to save money in the cash-strapped district. Schedule A included the early start for the two Lake Oswego high schools, while Schedule E had high schoolers starting one hour and ten minutes later and Schedule H kept the current high school schedule.

God help me, I got that familiar shiver down my spine just reading about those different lettered schedules. I remember those 7 a.m. classes, the world outside was dark and in the chemistry lab the Bunsen flames were dancing before my shut eyelids… Is it any wonder that I turned to a life of drugs and whoring?
But seriously, the entire town of Lake Oswego is raging over the schedule change. A vote for the new schedules is slated for March 8, but the final decision could be postponed one more week. Nicole Dungca suggests the meeting for the final vote will likely be packed with students like Nate Belcik, 14, who protested Schedule A Wednesday night.

"I believe that going to school 15 minutes earlier would be very detrimental to students because I know a lot of students who fall asleep early in class," he said, following comments from another student who proclaimed that "almost every student" at Lakeridge opposed the idea.


One Lakeridge student did go against the pack, according to Nicole Dungca. Ebiye Udo-Udoma (aka Cerebral Prince), 16, of Lakeridge High School, said losing 15 minutes of sleep was hardly an issue. "Figure it out, and find the time to sleep," he said.

A parent of two Lake Oswego High School students, Mitu Bhargava, echoed Udo-Udoma’s sentiments, saying she was "distressed" by some of the students’ words to the board. She noted that many students around the world wake up much earlier, signifying a work ethic that may lead some countries to surpass the United States in preparing their students for the global stage. "We’ve got to work harder," Bhargava said. "It’s not a big deal to wake up in the morning."

If you visited the links I provided for the two lone supporters of schedules A through H, you’ll recognize they both come from third world countries, which could explain why they’re so offended by the apparent softness and spoilage of privileged Oregon State children. How refreshing, then, to find George F. Will on the side of the bellyachers…

In a study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, 37 volunteers were randomly assigned to either a normal night of sleep or total sleep deprivation. The next day, they were shown a series of faces with varying amounts of emotion - including happy, sad, and angry. They found that the sleep deprived participants rated the pictures of happy and angry faces as less angry and happy than those who slept that night.

The same was not true for the pictures of sad faces - sleep or not, they rated them similarly. Interestingly, the effect was stronger in women than in men. Women gave even lower scores for happy and angry faces. (Kelly Baron, PhD, Sleep deprivation changes affects the accuracy of rating others emotions, Chicago Now)

Baron points out that "People who have certain disorders, such as autism, have difficulty with emotional cues." That’s not to say that being sleep deprived makes you autistic, but it might make you more susceptible to the lack of empathy we associate with that affliction. Sleep deprived people are less in touch with the world, they simply care less, which may be why they’re more likely to give away secrets in interrogations.
Isn’t it amazing that in order to be better connected to the reality of the world around us we need to spend more hours shut away from it, in dreamland?

Wake up, Mr. Johnson, it’s time for your sleeping pill…

Yori Yanover