Many parents have pushed for a later start to the school day for teenagers, with limited success. But parents just got a boost from the nation’s pediatricians, who say that making middle and high schoolers start classes before 8:30 a.m. threatens children’s’ health, safety and academic performance.

“We want to promote safety with kids,” says Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “We truly believe that our teenagers are getting six to seven hours of sleep a night, and they need eight to 10.”

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling on school districts to move start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high schools, so that students can get at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night.

“It’s making a very powerful statement about the importance of sleep to health,” says Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep researcher at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wrote a review of the scientific evidence on teen sleep needs that accompanied the recommendation. “School start time is a cost-effective way to address this public health issue.”

But it’s a change that most school districts have yet to embrace. Right now just 15 percent of high schools start at 8:30 or later, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m.

The doctors know they’re leaping into an already tense conflict between parents and school districts. “It’s been fraught with controversy,” Breuner tells Shots. “It’s horrifically challenging to move these start schedules up and back.”

Letting teenagers sleep later typically means an earlier start for elementary schools, and sets off a cascade of adjustments. Teachers have to change their schedules, times shift for after-school activities and jobs, and older siblings who sit younger ones might no longer get home first.

But this is one area of health where the evidence is unequivocal, the pediatricians say. As children become teenagers, their sleep-wake cycle shifts two hours later, so it’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to go to sleep before 10:30 p.m.

As a result, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that 59 percent of middle schoolers and 87 percent of high schoolers are getting less than the recommended 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep a night.

“There’s a price to pay for that,” Owens says. Studies have found that lack of sleep in teenagers increases the risk of traffic accidents, and makes them more vulnerable to depression and obesity. Teens who get more sleep do better academically, with better standardized test scores and better quality of life.

Caffeinating to get through the day or sleeping more on weekends doesn’t make up for the sleep deficits, the doctors note. “It’s not simply about getting teenagers to go to bed early or removing electronics from the bedroom,” Owens says. “Those are important things, but the biology trumps a lot of these environmental factors. The average teenager can’t fall asleep at 11.”

As someone who had to rouse a bleary-eyed middle schooler at 6:20 Monday morning, I’m praying that our school district will reconsider its recent decision to punt on later start times. I know that science doesn’t necessarily sway policy. But how about a nice bump in standardized test scores?

“Hopefully this policy statement will get the dialogue started in those school districts that haven’t started, and be ammunition for those that are in the throes of making the decision,” Owens says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

*This post was updated to remove the accompanying photo. You can find the original NPR post with the photo here.

Pediatricians Say School Should Start Later For Teens’ Health 22 May,2015MindShift

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  • NorthHills

    Surely… you jest. Really. Schools and bus schedules and all should be thrown out of whack because parents are allowing teens to stay up until midnight and beyond? C’mon. Seriously. The problem isn’t that schools need to start later in the day, but that parents, for their kids’ well-being, need to stick to a healthy bed time on school nights, even for teens.

  • Vanessa Perry

    As a teacher of 8th graders, I wouldn’t mind if the school day started a half hour later. I probably would be nicer to my first period students.

  • Dede

    PBS has published a documentary on the teenage brain. The studies show that teenagers need more sleep than previously thought and that their brains are wired in a way that causes them not fall asleep until later in the evening. Starting school later would allow for teens to get more of the sleep they need and work on school work later as they are wired.

  • Led Zep

    What about the parents who need to get to work, which for most of us is usually pre-8:30? That is the reality of our work-saturated society. Most of us (and that means both parents nowadays) need to get to work on time or lose our jobs. If we lose our jobs I guess it would be easier to get the kids to school later because then we would be stay- -at-home (albeit unemployed and depressed) parents. This sounds great from a theoretical, research-based POV, but the reality of the situation doesn’t follow suit. This was one of Arne Duncan’s brilliant propositions, which really tells you all you need to know.

  • Chris Davis

    I agree with Vanessa. My students need another hour after they land on campus to wake up. This would also help with my commute to work.

  • Kody Lawrence

    This is very interesting information. I understand how a good nights rest is so important. Especially for growing teenagers. I try to make sure all my kids grow up in the healthiest way possible. http://www.kidsfirstpedsraeford.com/our-office/

  • Michelle

    As an 8th grade student myself it’s difficult waking up at 5:45/6 am 5 days out of the week. I usually get home around 6 after and 1- 1 1/2 of HW, dinner, assisting my younger siblings with their HW, a shower, and studying, it is already 11. It’s insane. Some nights I have to complete projects or essays which bumps my sleep time even later. It’s a vicious cycle and I’ sure middle school and high school students would appreciate a later school start time. I have to be at my bus stop at 6:30am. I don’t take as much time in the morning as most do, so some kids are waking up even earlier. It’s insane.

  • DaisyOMP

    By moving school start times to later will help a lot in teenagers. It will help better them academically and health wise. Moving school start times will allow students to wake up a bit more later than usual. Allowing them to freshen themselves up from the night before. Speaking from experience, I fall asleep late due to having to do homework after coming home from work, not including the other commitments I have to do at home. Starting school later would help me and others have a bit more rest and actually have the strength to be able to pay attention in class the next day. It gets very difficult trying to stay awake in class when the night before you stayed up doing all your homework. Cut us a break, let us have more sleep.

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