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Pediatricians call for later school starts

August 26, 2014

Just in time for back-to-school, and a little late when schedules are already in place for the 2014-2015 academic year, comes a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is recommending middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later.

"We’ve known for some time that adolescents are sleep deprived, and this policy statement is official notice from the AAP to middle and high school administrators that start times should be delayed," said Dr. Matthew Sadof, a pediatrician at Baystate Children’s Hospital. "Kids really need a good eight to nine and a half hours of sleep, but there is a phase shift in adolescence that keeps them up longer at night. As a result, it’s much more difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m."

By the numbers

A National Sleep Foundation poll found:

  • 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended hours of sleep on school nights.
  • 71 percent of parents believed their teen was getting enough sleep.

A technical report accompanying the policy statement notes that evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents. An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.

Sleep deprivation

"Like any of us who are sleepy, you can be cranky and don’t think straight, but even more so for kids in school, it’s harder to concentrate and learn," Dr. Sadof said.

Sleep deprivation can lead to drowsy driving and more car accidents for teen drivers. It can also lead to a variety of physical ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

"Unlike other public health issues, this doesn’t cost any money to fix. We just have to help kids change their sleep patterns," Dr. Sadof said.

Sleep strategy

According to the AAP, parents should set bedtimes and supervise sleep practices, including limiting electronic media in the bedroom and imposing a media curfew.

Baystate Medical Center’s Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Center and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has some tips for getting a better night's sleep:

  • Limit "sleeping in" on the weekends, which makes it harder to wake up for school on Monday.
  • Get homework done plenty of time in advance of bedtime and do not stay up all hours of the night to "cram" for an exam.
  • Don’t study, read, watch television or talk on the phone in bed.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that acts as a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
  • Eat a small snack before bedtime to avoid going to bed hungry.
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of bedtime.
  • Signal to your body that it’s bedtime by avoiding bright lights.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Make the bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.