New Evidence That Sleep-Deprived Teenagers Need to Start School Later

Anyone who’s ever spent time with a teenager (or remembers adolescence) knows that the average middle or high schooler is a zombie in the morning—and it’s not because the kid is lazy or hoping for a chance to reenact Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Scientists know that because of changes in the body’s circadian rhythms, teenagers need more sleep, and when they don’t get it, a slew of negative consequences result.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is putting pressure on schools to adjust the time the morning bell rings. It has released a policy paper, published in the journal Pediatrics, that officially recommends that teenagers start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The medical organization wrote that insufficient sleep in adolescents is a “public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.” It recommends that middle and high school students get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep every night. That's not the reality for most kids. A recent poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that 58 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds sleep less than seven hours every night. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly 43 percent of public high schools start before 8 a.m., but if a student is in the high school band or on the swim team, he or she may stagger into school as early as 6:30 a.m. for practice. If that student has to take a bus or train to school, he or she may have to leave home as early as 5:30 a.m. to get to school on time. Simply telling youths to go to bed earlier so that they're functional at such an early hour is an ineffective solution because biological changes brought about by puberty make it pretty impossible for them to nod off before 11 p.m.

Over time, wrote the paper’s authors, the lack of sleep makes teens more prone to obesity and diabetes, more likely to feel depressed and experience other mood and behavior problems, and more likely to fall asleep at the wheel while driving. The American Academy of Pediatrics also found that teens become more likely to become addicted to caffeine or other drugs that will keep them awake.

The most modifiable way to counteract the chronic fatigue is starting school later. Only 15 percent of public high schools in the U.S. begin at 8:30 a.m. or later. Schools that have changed to later start times have seen “benefits across the board," Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement at the University of Minnesota, told USA Today.

“We've found statistically significant evidence that attendance is improved, tardiness is decreased and academic performance on core subjects, English, math, social studies and science, is improved. And now we have evidence that on national standardized tests such as the ACT, there's improvement there, too," Wahlstrom said.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has no power to make schools shift to later start times, the nation’s top education policy maker seems to be in favor of the shift. “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later,” tweeted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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Original article from TakePart