Written by Caitlin Schille
We all know that sleep is important, especially for growing and developing children and teens. Why then, do most school systems in the U.S. begin their middle schools and high schools start before the recommended start time of 8:30 AM? According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 AM start time or later during the 2012 school year.”
Plain and simple, this is harmful to teens. Many teens are highly involved in academics, sports, and other extracurricular activities, often making it difficult for them to have a very early bedtime. A later school start time would facilitate teens in getting their recommended their eight hour minimum of sleep. And eight hours is just the minimum-the general consensus is that teens need eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep per night.
Starting school too early keeps teens from getting enough sleep, which compromises their health as well as their ability to perform well academically. The health risks associated with insufficient sleep include being overweight, abusing harmful substances, and even developing chronic conditions later in life such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. A lack of sleep can even compromise immediate safety; sleep experts assert that driving without sufficient sleep can be the equivalent of driving under the influence of alcohol.
This issue is so pressing to the health and safety of America’s teens that the American Academy of Pediatrics has even put forth a statement urging middle schools and high schools across the country to adhere to the recommended school start time of 8:30 AM or later.
The AAP also reports that:
- 40% of schools start before 8 am.
- 20% of middle schools start at 7:45am or earlier.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that later school start times are correlated with better attendance, higher grades and less depression. But they also reported on a study by Brigham Young University researchers which found that students with the best scores on math and English tests got 7-7.5 hours of sleep, which is far lower than the recommended amount.
“We’re not saying test scores trump overall well-being of the child,” one of the researchers, Eric Eide, told the Trib, adding that “there is a wide range of sleep consistent with doing well.”
Utah high schools seem to lean toward earlier start times. American Fork High School in Utah County starts at 7:45 am, as does its neighbor Lone Peak High School. Pleasant Grove High School is the same. East High and West High in Salt Lake City also start at 7:45 am. Ogden High School also starts at 7:45.
Parents can also help ensure that their teenage children are getting sufficient sleep. Try to create a consistent bedtime and wake-time, and create a regular bedtime routine. Keep electronics out of your teen’s room, as these stimulate the brain and hinder your teen from falling asleep. Encourage wise time management skills to help your child complete all required work and assignments during normal hours.
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