A new policy statement published online by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Monday recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.
Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.
“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,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics. “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.”
Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6-8 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.
Teen lack of sleep results from homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that keeps them up late on weeknights. But the evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents. An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m. and only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m. and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.
The AAP advises health care professionals to educate parents, educators, athletic coaches and other stakeholders about the biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep. The AAP also recommends pediatricians counsel teens and parents about healthy sleep habits, including enforcing a media curfew.
What do you as parents, educators and general readers think?
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