Doctors Push For Later School Start Times

Teens aren't the only ones who want a little extra sleep. New research from the American Academy of Pediatrics says high schools and middle schools need to push their start time to 8:30 a.m. or later. With 45 percent of teens getting less than eight hours of sleep each night — the optimal amount for their age group — members of the AAP think a delayed start time is necessary to prevent "a public health crisis."

"As adolescents go up in grade, they're less likely with each passing year to get anything resembling sufficient sleep," Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center and lead author of the AAP statement, says. According to Owens and her fellow authors, insufficient sleep can lead to:

  • Increased risk for obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes; higher rates of automobile accidents; and lower levels of physical activity.
  • Increased risk for anxiety and depression; increased risk-taking behaviors; impaired interpretation of social/emotional cues, decreased motivation and increased vulnerability to stress.
  • Lower academic achievement, poor school attendance; increased dropout rates; and impairments in attention, memory, organization, and time management.

Despite the medical evidence, school officials say changing the start time is not something that can happen overnight. They add that doing so would affect transportation arrangements to and from school and participation in after-school activities, such as athletics and employment. Still, Owens says this is the only way to help our teens succeed.

"The bottom line is if school starts at 7:20 there is no way for the average adolescent to get the 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep they need."