redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
A group of US pediatricians is encouraging middle schools and high schools to delay their start times by as much as an hour to avoid the physical and mental issues that can arise as a result of sleep deprivation.
According to Andrew M. Seaman of Reuters Health, a new policy statement issued Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that schools should start no earlier than 8:30am, as previous research suggested that students performed better and tended to be safer with the later start than when they had to be in school by 7:30am or 8:00am.
“We want to engage in at least starting a discussion in the community,” Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep medicine specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC and who led the AAP’s Adolescent Sleep Working Group, Council on School Health and Committee on Adolescence responsible for the new policy, told Reuters.
“Hopefully as a result of that the importance of sleep health as a priority will become more prominent,” she added. “I think that we definitely acknowledge that changing school start times is a challenge for many communities and that there are political, logistical and financial considerations associated with that, but at the end of the day this is something that communities can do to have a significant and definite impact of the health of their population.”
In the new policy statement, the AAP said that delaying the start of the school day would allow adolescent and teenage students to have their biological sleep cycles, which change at the start of puberty, to match-up better with their school scheduled.
The group cites research which has found the average American adolescent is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically tired, as well as a National Sleep Foundation poll which found that 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of US high school students were getting less than the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep recommended for school nights. The later start time, the AAP argues, would help rectify that problem.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” Dr. Owens said. “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep… have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life. Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”
In addition to harming academic performance, the organization said that insufficient sleep could increase a teenager’s risk of becoming obese, suffering a stroke and contracting type 2 diabetes, said USA Today’s Michelle Healy. A lack of sleep could also make them more likely to be involved in an automobile accident, suffer from anxiety and depression, and engage in risky behaviors while decreasing the amount of time they expend exercising.
The AAP said the reasons that teens aren’t getting enough sleep on school nights “are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights.” The organization added that it encourages parents to enforce a media curfew for their children, and said that taking naps, sleeping in on weekends and consuming caffeine were temporary measures that can help students stay awake but “do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep.”
“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 Dr. Owens. “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.”