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, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says
in its journal Pediatrics.
“We want to engage in at least starting a discussion in the
community,” Dr. Judith Owens told Reuters Health. “Hopefully as a
result of that the importance of sleep health as a priority will
become more prominent.”
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.
In an additional article published alongside the new policy
statement, Owens and her coauthors write that poor sleep has been
linked to increased risks of depression, anxiety, obesity and motor
“We’ve been steadily accumulating the evidence to demonstrate that
chronic sleep loss has very significant health safety and
performance outcomes,” Owens said.
Teenagers also experience a biological shift in sleep patterns after
puberty that makes it difficult to get to sleep before 11 p.m.,
Owens said. Their sleep needs of 8 to 9 hours don’t change, however.
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.
“More is better, but even that modest amount of a shift can have
very, very positive effects,” she said.
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In addition to encouraging later start times, the AAP’s statement
recommends pediatricians educate adolescents and their parents about
proper sleep needs. Also, it says, school nurses and doctors should
be educated about the sleep needs of students and the AAP and other
organizations should develop educational tools about sleep needs.
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
“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
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.”
Pediatrics, online August 25, 2014.
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