School Start Times Effect on TeensSummer officially ends September 22nd at 10:29pm. But for kids, summer has come to a close this week as schools across the country begin their new academic year.

Most parents share the daunting task of waking up your teen to hit the 6:35am bus. U.S. Pediatricians are catching up to what parents instinctively have known for years. In a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Middle and high schools should delay their start times to at least 8:30 a.m. to benefit the health and welfare of students.”

In an article published by Reuters Health this week: Instead of having teens be in school by 7:30 or 8:00, delaying the start time has been found in past research to improve their quality of life through physical and mental health, safety and better academic performance – AAP

Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep medicine specialist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., led the AAP’s Adolescent Sleep Working Group, Council on School Health and Committee on Adolescence in writing the new policy.

“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,” Owens said.

Owens and her coauthors write that poor sleep has been linked to increased risks of depression, anxiety, obesity and motor vehicle accidents.

“We’ve been steadily accumulating the evidence to demonstrate that chronic sleep loss has very significant health safety and performance outcomes.” says Owens. “Teenagers also experience a biological shift in sleep patterns after puberty that makes it difficult to get to sleep before 11 p.m., however their sleep needs of 8 to 9 hours don’t change.”

In addition to the health benefits, the pediatricians write that delaying school start times have been tied to better graduation and attendance rates, fewer children reporting sleepiness during class and better test scores.

When asked if pushing back the time school starts will just keep teens and adolescents up later, Owens said research hasn’t shown that to be true. In fact, one school that delayed it start time saw its students get an additional 50 minutes of sleep, because the students began going to bed even earlier.

The statement says schools should take travel time into account when adjusting their start times.
“We hope one of the outcomes of this policy statement is that it gets communities and school districts considering this,” Owens said of the time change.

The suggestion to push back the start time of school is good but sleep behavior also has to improve among students, said Dr. Umakanth Khatwa.

“It will definitely help them to get more sleep but if they continue without improving their sleep hygiene maybe we would soon be talking about 10 o’clock,” said Khatwa, director of Sleep Laboratories at the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He said there is also a lot of responsibility to be put on pediatricians and school nurses to educated students and parents about sleep health. Unfortunately many doctors and nurses don’t receive education in that subject, he added.

When school starts before 8:30 a.m., Khatwa said, parents and students should take into account how much time they need in the morning to get ready and get to school and then count back eight to nine hours to find a suitable bedtime.

“I think the most important advice I’d give to parents is keep the wakeup time consistent on weekends,” he said. “If the adolescents wake up on noon on weekend there is no way they’re going to fall asleep again at 10 or 11 at night.”

Credit: Reuters Health


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