Group Recommends Delayed Start to High School, Middle School Classes

The research is in and experts are speaking out. The verdict…let your teens sleep!

Doctors are urging middle schools and high schools to delay the start of classes to help students get the sleep they need to effectively learn and grow. The nation’s largest group of pediatricians is weighing in on the issue. USA Today (8/25, Healy) reports the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement online in Pediatrics saying to delay “the start of high school and middle school classes to 8:30 a.m. or later is ‘an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss’ and the ‘epidemic’ of delayed, insufficient, and erratic sleep patterns among the nation’s teens.” US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other major health organizations including the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are also weighing in, highlighting insufficient sleep in adolescents as a serious health risk.

USA Today (8/25, Healy) goes on to explain multiple negative factors that are cited as interfering with a teen’s ability to get enough sleep including biological changes associated with puberty, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs, homework, lifestyle choices, and academic demands. Due to the increased demands, high school seniors were getting an average of less then seven hours of sleep a night. Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, a lead author of the AAP statement, cites several consequences resulting from a lack of sleep including increased risk for obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes; increased risk for anxiety and depression; higher rates of automobile accidents; and lower academic achievement to name a few. By pushing back the school start times teen’s can achieve the optimal level of sleep needed, between 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours a night.

The complexity of the issue is addressed by NBC News (8/25, Fox, Edwards). “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.” Regardless of the inconveniences, Dr. Owens says “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).’”

The story was also covered by Reuters (8/25, Seaman) and the Wall Street Journal (8/25, Reddy, Subscription Publication).

Dr. Steven Lipsky

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