American teens don’t get enough sleep and early school start times are a major contribution to this problem, according to a policy statement released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Sleep-deprived Teenagers are more likely to be overweight, suffer depression and are at increased risk of being in an automobile accident. To ensure teens get enough sleep, the AAP suggests middle schools and high schools start classes later in the morning, pushing start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Currently, 85 percent of schools in the U.S. start classes before 8:30.
According to the AAP, the natural circadian rhythms of adolescents makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Additionally, homework, extra-curricular activities, technology use and after-school jobs all keep teens from turning in early each night. While many teens attempt to counteract their lack of sleep by napping, sleeping longer on weekends and drinking caffeinated beverages, these strategies do not replace a good night’s sleep necessary for optimal alertness, according to the AAP.
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.” —Judith Owens, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents.”
Students need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep, yet according to a National sleep foundation poll, teens in the nation average slightly more than 7 hours of sleep each night. In addition to urging schools to delay the start of the school day, the AAP suggests parents enforce a “media curfew,” a set time each night when teens must stop playing video games, watching television and using a computer or smart phone. Health care professionals should educate teachers, athletic coaches and parents about the biological and environmental causes of insufficient sleep among teens.
Many schools are hesitant to change start times. A later start to the school day pushes sports and other extra-curricular activities into the evening. Changes to middle and high school schedules may also disrupt school bus schedules, requiring additional routes, which is costly. The nonprofit organization Start School Later, Inc. believes much of the opposition to later start times is a “knee-jerk” reaction. Start School Later cites many examples of schools that have successfully changed their schedules to accommodate the sleep patterns of their students.