Schools may finally be waking up to the fact that children’s natural sleep rhythms should be taking precedence over inflexible (and early) class start times.

From NBC News:

Let Them Sleep In: Docs Want Later School Times for Teens
By Maggie Fox and Erika Edwards

Your teenager wants to sleep later and now his doctor agrees. Middle and high school students shouldn’t have to start school until 8:30 in the morning or later, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” says Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, who led the team that wrote the group’s policy statement on the issue.

“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.”

New study reveals children’s sleep habits

Many school districts are debating making the change. The Long Beach, California, school board voted last year to delay the start of middle school until 9 a.m. But the school district in Durham, North Carolina just this month delayed a plan to move high school start times to 8 a.m. instead of 7.30 a.m.

It’s a complex issue, with school boards, educators and parents struggling to balance bus schedules, after-school activities and, for older students, work schedules.

The AAP decided to weigh in on the longstanding debate as an important health issue.

“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, explaining that 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 (the change).”

“These kids are essentially in a permanent state of jet lag.”

Owens says biology should trump convenience.

“Around the time that teenagers go into puberty, there are changes in what’s called the circadian rhythm. And that is the body’s time clock that regulates sleep and wake patterns,” she told NBC News.

“And so at around the beginning of adolescence, there is a natural delay in fall-asleep time and wake time. So that the average teenager can’t fall asleep much before 11 o’clock. However, they also need between eight and a half and nice and a half hours of sleep per night so if you do the math, they are biologically programmed to fall asleep at 11 and wake at around 8am. And that’s a time when they’re already in first period class.”

Teens often sleep in over the weekend, making matters worse, she added. “These kids are essentially in a permanent state of jet lag,” she said.

Making matters worse, many teen habits make it even harder to fall asleep. Here’s where parents can help.

“Many teenagers sleep with their cell phones in their pillows and they’re texting all night,” Owens said. “So I think it’s very important for parents to set limits on the use of those kinds of electronics.” Studies have shown that the light from an iPad or even a cell phone can keep the brain in a waking, excited state.

Matt Nelko:

Studies are also finding that the electromagnetic fields constantly given off by cell phones, computers, and just about anything connected to WiFi can disrupt brain waves during sleep.  It’s best to keep all electronic devices out of the bedroom altogether.  If you must have a telephone, use an old-fashioned land line CORDED phone, and a regular alarm clock.

A quick nap can help, Owens advises. “Certainly planned naps in the afternoon, late in the afternoon for 20 minutes or so can take the edge off and temporarily restore alertness,” she advises.

A separate study published this month cautions about the consequences of not getting enough sleep. It found that teenagers who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to become obese.

Shakira Suglia of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and colleagues found in a survey of 10,000 teens and young adults that about a fifth of the 16-year-olds reported getting less than six hours of sleep a night. They were 20 percent more likely to be obese by age 21, compared to their peers who got more than eight hours of sleep, Suglia’s team reported in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Lack of sleep in your teenage years can stack the deck against you for obesity later in life,” Suglia said in a statement. “Once you’re an obese adult, it is much harder to lose weight and keep it off. And the longer you are obese, the greater your risk for health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Nikita Japra contributed to this story.
First published August 25th 2014, 12:03 am

Matt Nelko post note:

I think this will force us to seriously re-evaluate the wisdom of teenagers overscheduling themselves with overloaded academic course loads, too many activities, and after-school jobs (and of course, parents overscheduling their younger children as well).  At a time when teenagers need the most sleep of their lives — not to mention the need for daily unstructured “play” time to process the immense volumes of information they’re inputting into their brains — we are essentially forcing teens into “workdays” longer than most adults can handle; 7-8 hours in school, then at least another 2-3 hours of homework, 2-3 hours of after-school activities, and as is more often the case than not, teens pulling 4-6 hour shifts at WORK as well.  Many teenagers are still up at midnight, but dragging themselves out of bed as early as 5:00 AM. 


And with younger children, it’s even worse.  So many working parents are dropping their kids off at school early that many schools are instituting breakfasts and BEFORE-school activities as well, to conform with office schedules.  Working until 5, not picking the kids up from daycare until 6-ish, the kids aren’t getting dinner until 7, which is only an hour away from when most elementary school children should be in bed.