In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that middle and high school classes begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. This later start time would allow teenagers to work with their body’s natural sleep rhythms.
Beginning at puberty, teens’ sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later. Research has shown that adolescents who suffer from a lack of sleep are at greater risk for physical and mental health problems, automobile accidents, and declining academic performance.
Getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles cause them to stay up late into the night and who must arrive at a 7:30 a.m. first-period class.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the journal Pediatrics.
“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,” Owens said.
“Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”
Research has suggested the average U.S. teen is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of sixth through eighth graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.
An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. begin before 8:00 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8:00 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.
The policy statement is accompanied by a technical report, “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on Causes and Consequences.” The report updates a prior report on excessive sleepiness among adolescents that was published in 2005.
Napping, sleeping in on the weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and do not take the place of regular, sufficient sleep, according to the AAP.
“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance, and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Owens said.
“By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics