Child Sleep, From ZZZ's to A's

How better sleep relates to learning, memory, and behavior

Midnight Movie Premieres

Should school age children and adolescents attend on school nights?


Midnight Premiere
The movie industry has discovered a lucrative marketing strategy by having midnight premieres on Thursday nights. This year alone numerous movies, including The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises, Spiderman, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 had premieres at 12:01 am. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is scheduled to open at midnight on Thursday, December 13. Box office receipts are typically huge, around $30 million for each film’s midnight premiere, and while hard statistics are not easily obtained, hundreds of thousands of the eager attendees are tweens and teenagers. Here is a promotional statement from one theatre:

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Join us early for the midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at the IMAX Theater for a chance to win great prizes like an IMAX Annual Pass, priority seating and more! The fun starts at 10 p.m. on Thursday, December 13 with a costume contest, Hobbit trivia and other great giveaways. An extended concessions menu including beer and wine will be available beginning at 9:30 p.m. All ticket holders will also receive a commemorative pack of character prints from the film courtesy of IMAX.  To participate in the activities you must be ticketed for the 12:05 a.m. show on Friday, December 14. 

One blog I saw gave tips for staying awake and alert for these exciting events: coffee, soda, chocolate, or Adderall. One enthusiast said that a 44-ounce soda usually did the trick for her. Sounds like great fun, no? But for the vast majority of school-age children and adolescents, Friday, December 15 is a school day. Just how functional will children be when they have slept three to four hours or not at all?

My two teenagers have friends and classmates who attend these movies, and attest to the fact that those who do so are unsurprisingly “wiped out” and pretty worthless for school the next day. Some parents undoubtedly recognize that problem and just elect not to send their children to school that day. It would be interesting to see school attendance figures on Fridays after a midnight premiere.

Many parents rationalize allowing children to attend by thinking, “It’s just one night.” As I have discussed in previous posts, there are now many other activities on school nights, often sponsored by schools, that reduce the opportunity for children to get sufficient sleep.

When the tragic mass murders occurred at a midnight premiere in Colorado, numerous blogs had discussions of whether children should be allowed to attend midnight movies. That movie opened during most students’ summer break, when sleep deprivation was not so much a worry, but such premieres are just as often scheduled during the school year. The movie industry bears some responsibility for the unintended consequences of midnight premieres. And parents certainly play a role in bending to what must be substantial pressure from their children to attend. 

Midnight movies by themselves probably in many cases do no lasting harm. But they are part of a larger set of changing societal conditions that all reduce the chance that students will get enough sleep for optimal learning. When we wring our hands about poor achievement by students, frequent assumptions are that teachers are underprepared, curricula are weak, and school climates are not conducive to learning.

But sleepy children are not responsive to even the best teachers, and it is time that we recognized the multiple factors responsible, including the entertainment corporations who profit from attracting young people to theatres at midnight several nights a year.

Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., is Wayne T. Smith Distinguished Professor and Former Director of the School Psychology Program at Auburn University.

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