Pediatricians say middle and high schools shouldn’t start class before 8:30 a.m., as a way to help sleep-deprived teenagers

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that middle and high schools not start of classes until 8:30 a.m. at the earliest.

An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. start classes 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, according to the AAP release. The Kentucky Department of Education doesn’t track school start times, but those are locally available.

When children become adolescents, their sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later, meaning their bodies naturally want to go to bed and get up two hours later than before puberty hit, says the release. This makes it hard for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and even more difficult to get to class by 7:30 or earlier the next day.

“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,” said Judith Owens, pediatrician and lead author of the AAP policy statement. “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.”

Pediatricians “urge middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night,” the group says. In most cases, that means a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, depending on average commuting times and other local factors.

Many studies have documented that “the average adolescent in the U.S. is “chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy.” Reasons listed for this lack of sleep include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on weeknights.

And while students, parents, and all those involved need to learn about healthy sleep habits for adolescents and about the biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep, schools should also adjust their start times, AAP said, citing studies showing that a too-early start time “is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.”

“By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, 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 that change,” Owens said in the release.

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