Most Teens Start School Too Early to Get Enough Sleep
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2015 Aug 11
*The following is excerpted from an online article from USA Today.
Most teens start school too early in the morning, which deprives them of the sleep they need to learn and stay healthy, a new study says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics last year urged middle schools and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. in order to allow teens — who are biologically programmed to stay up later at night than adults — to get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.
But 83% of schools do start before 8:30 a.m., according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average start time for 39,700 public middle schools, high schools and combined schools was 8:03 a.m., based on data from the 2011-2012 school year.
School systems have debated whether to delay school start times for years. Many parents have asked schools to start later, arguing that their teens have trouble waking up early enough to get to school by 7:30 a.m., let alone learn.
"It makes absolutely no sense," said physician M. Safwan Badr, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "You're asking kids to learn math at a time their brains are not even awake."
But many school officials have argued that starting class later would make it more difficult to schedule after-school sporting events, which often require teams to take buses to other parts of their districts.
"It's a logistical nightmare," said Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association., who said that school districts have to consider the cost of school buses, as well as traffic and after-school activity schedules.
Allowing high schoolers to sleep in could mean sending elementary kids to school in the dark during the winter, as they would have to take the early schedule. That could pose a safety dangers to the youngest kids as they walk to school or wait at bus stops, Domenech said.
Starting high school later also would mean starting sports practices later and make it more difficult for teens to get to after-school jobs, Domenech said.
Yet studies show that today's teens are chronically sleep deprived, said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children's Hospital and lead author of the pediatric academy report.
Two-thirds of high school students today fail to get even eight hours of sleep on school nights, according to the CDC report. Adolescents who don't get enough sleep are at higher risk for being overweight, depressed and using tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs, but less likely to get enough exercise, according to the CDC. Over time, people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes, Owens said.
While some adults assume that sleepy teens are lazy, Badr said that adolescents' natural sleep cycles are very different than adults'.
While the average adult's body tells her to sleep from about 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., the typical teen body wants to sleep from about 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. until 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., Badr said. When school starts too early, "they're waking up at a time when their brain doesn't want them to be awake."