education

Pediatricians suggest later school days for sleepy teens



Decades of studies show teenagers don’t get enough sleep, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says the problem could be easy to alleviate.

The AAP recently put out a policy statement to recommend middle and high schools begin classes at 8:30 a.m. or later.

“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, lead author of the statement.

Middle and high schools in Monroe County Community School Corporation start at 7:40 a.m. every day except Wednesday, which is a shortened school day.

High school and middle school students start class at 8:25 a.m. Wednesdays, which is close to the AAP’s recommended start time.

More than 40 percent of U.S. high schools started before 8 a.m. during the 2011-12 school year, and 15 percent started at 8:30 a.m. or later, according to the statement.

The AAP reports adolescents’ sleep cycles can shift up to two hours later when they start puberty, which means they might not naturally fall asleep until 11 p.m. Teens should ideally get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per day, according to the study.

Researchers found adolescents who get more sleep are likely to have better grades and test scores.

They are better drivers — less likely to get in accidents — and have better physical and mental health because they are less at risk of becoming overweight or suffering from mental illness such as depression.

Though other factors such as lifestyle choices and schoolwork also affect teens’ ability to get enough sleep, the studies cited by the AAP showed that early school start times are a key contributor.

The AAP cites a poll by the National Sleep Foundation in which 28 percent of students reported falling asleep in school at least once a week.

The same poll showed 59 percent of students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade and 87 percent of students in high school were getting less than the recommended hours of sleep on school nights.

One study looked at students in grades six through 12 in a school district that changed the school start time by one hour.

Students averaged 12 to 30 minutes more sleep per night, and 50 percent of students reported getting eight hours of sleep or more on school nights, compared to 37 percent of students when school started earlier.

Other studies showed high schools that started just 30 minutes earlier than other schools had students who were sleepier, had trouble concentrating and had behavior problems.

In contrast, delaying start times for middle school and high school students meant students got more sleep on school nights, fewer students were tardy and their academic performance improved.

Researchers also found bedtimes weren’t likely to be later in response to a delayed start time.

“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,” Owens said.

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