Saved by the bell!

10 Nov Saved by the bell!

What time should school start?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) are possibly the most respected governing body in the field of sleep medicine. They recently released a position statement relating to the start times for high school students. The position statement is published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. School should start at 8:30 or later for high school students. For adolescents, these later start times optimise daytime alertness, reduce tardiness, improve school attendance and supports peak academic performance, more opportunities for learning, better mental health and enhanced driving safety.

The AASM recommends that teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health. However, CDC data show that 68.4 percent of high school students report sleeping 7 hours or less on school nights. Later schools start times allow for adolescents the opportunity to get sufficient sleep on school nights. Dr Nathaniel Watson states; “Starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later gives teens a better opportunity to get the sufficient sleep they need to learn and function at their highest level.” And “Early school start times make it difficult for adolescents to get sufficient sleep on school nights, and chronic sleep loss among teens is associated with a host of problems, including poor school performance, increased depressive symptoms, and motor vehicle accidents”.

Teenagers naturally go to bed later, and wake up later. This is a natural phenomenon, our circadian rhythms (or body clocks) change as we age. Teenagers go to bed and wake up later and elderly people go to bed earlier and rise earlier, adults 18-50 are somewhere in-between. It makes sense that school start times should better reflect the objective of a school; adolescent learning. We know learning improves with better sleep, it’s a no-brainer really.

Studies show that short sleep in adolescents is associated with the following:

  • Poor school performance
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular morbidity
  • Increased depressive symptoms
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Athletic injuries

Delaying middle school and high school start times is associated with a variety of benefits for teen students:

  • Longer total sleep time
  • Reduced daytime sleepiness
  • Increased engagement in class activities
  • Reduced first-hour tardiness and absences
  • Reduced depressive symptoms and irritability
  • Improved reaction time

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