CHICAGO (TheBlaze/AP) — It’s not an entirely new idea that teens would benefit from more sleep and later school start times, but a major medical association is now stepping out with a “powerful” statement advocating for schools to push back first period.
Delaying the start of the school day until at least 8:30 a.m. would help curb students’ lack of sleep, which has been linked with poor health, bad grades, car crashes and other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a new policy.
The influential group said teens are especially at risk; for them, “chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm.” Dr. Judith Owens, lead author of the AAP policy, called it one of the “most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today.”
Studies have found that most U.S. students in middle school and high school don’t get the recommended amount of sleep — 8½ to 9½ hours on school nights; and that most high school seniors get an average of less than seven hours.
More than 40 percent of the nation’s public high schools start classes before 8 a.m., according to government data cited in the policy. And even when the buzzer rings at 8 a.m., school bus pickup times typically mean kids have to get up before dawn if they want that ride.
“The issue is really cost,” said Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
School buses often make multiple runs each morning for older and younger students. Adding bus drivers and rerouting buses is one of the biggest financial obstacles to later start times, Amundson said. The roughly 80 school districts that have adopted later times tend to be smaller, she said.
After-school sports are another often-cited obstacle because a later dismissal delays practices and games. The shift may also cut into time for homework and after-school jobs, Amundson said.
The policy, aimed at middle schools and high schools, was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Evidence on potential dangers for teens who get too little sleep is “extremely compelling” and includes depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, poor performance in school and on standardized tests and car accidents from drowsy driving, said Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The policy cites studies showing that delaying start times can lead to more nighttime sleep and improve students’ motivation in class and mood. Whether there are broader, long-term benefits requires more research, the policy says.
Watch WTIC-TV’s report about the recommended change to school start times:
Many administrators support the idea but haven’t resolved the challenges, said Amundson. She said the pediatricians’ new policy likely will have some influence.
Parents seeking a change “will come now armed with this report,” Amundson said.
Amundson is a former Virginia legislator and teacher who also served on the school board of Virginia’s Fairfax County, near Washington, D.C. Owens, the policy author, has been working with that board on a proposal to delay start times. A vote is due in October and she’s optimistic about its chances.
“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,” Owens said in a statement. “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.”
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