Don't Delay...Delay School Start Times Now!
This past week a very important position paper was released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). It recommends that school start times should begin no earlier than 8:30 AM for middle school and high school students. The paper was published in the April 15th issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
This change is supported by evidence that a later start time improves academic performance, and results in better mental health and fewer automobile accidents.
Dr. Nathaniel Watson, author of the position paper, stated “Starting school at 8:30 am or later gives teens a better opportunity to get the sufficient sleep they need to learn and function at their highest level.”
Teens and Sleep Needs Are Being Compromised With Dangerous Consequences
The amount of sleep that teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 should obtain on a regular basis is between 8 and 10 hours. In reality, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 68% of teenagers obtain LESS than 7 hours of sleep on school nights!
This chronic sleep loss coupled with the early school start times, works directly opposite of how the teen circadian rhythm is set up at that age level. It is a recipe for many bad and quite possibly deadly outcomes when we include the increased incidents of automobile accidents among this sleep deprived age group. They have little experience in driving and a dulled perception of how sleepy they truly are.
As stated in an AASM news archive about this position paper, students who do not obtain sufficient sleep are more prone to experience poor school performance, obesity, metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular morbidity, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, risk taking behaviors, and athletic injuries.
Resistance in Delaying School Start Times
With all of the above there is a pretty large body of evidence in favor of delaying school start times; why would anyone or anything stand in the way of what seems like an easy decision? There are numerous road blocks that keep appearing for the many school boards and parents trying to implement these later start times. These often include bus schedules, sports schedules, after school jobs, increased school costs, and older siblings that must care for younger siblings after school before their parents get home.
While the obstacles above are certainly many and may require some changes, many school boards nationally have deemed the costs of not taking action to be just as difficult with regard to the cost to the students whom they serve. These board members and community members have rolled up their sleeves and gotten serious about their commitment to serve as the vehicle of change – even when they have faced criticism from opponents that are not convinced of the vast amount of research and the need for this change.
I commend the school boards and the community members who take up the cause of trying to improve the health, well-being, and education of the students that they serve and I am delighted to see this strong commitment of support from the AASM. This topic is also a great one for members of the sleep technologist educator community to create awareness about.
I encourage all of you reading this to engage your community school board members in this important discussion in the hopes we may persuade a larger discussion within our local middle schools and high schools.
A great resource for information on this topic is the nonprofit group START SCHOOL LATER. Their website is http://www.startschoollater.net/. They offer free resources for community educators such as past research studies that support later school start times, POWERPOINT materials, flyers, and tool kits that you can use in your community presentations!
Start the discussion now - don’t delay! The seeds of your discussion may grow into a larger movement that could lead to a positive change in the lives and school experience of young people within your community! It’s up to us to educate the educators when it comes to delaying school start times!