Miami, Fla. (CBS TAMPA) — The American Academy of Pediatricians is urging education leaders to push back the start time for U.S. high school and middle school classes to 8:30 a.m. or later – a move intended to provide teenagers with more much-needed sleep.
Published in the academy’s journal Pediatrics, the leading group of U.S. pediatricians recommends that each day’s classes start after 8:30 a.m. and absolutely no earlier than 8 a.m., said study author Dr. Judith Owens. The push-back in classes is a response to research showing that U.S. kids are sleep-deprived, and that their academic performance and health are suffering.
Dr. Marcel Deray, a Florida sleep specialist, agrees with the recommendations.
“This is an important issue,” Deray, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Miami Children’s Hospital, told HealthDay. “I see a lot of teenagers who are tired and have problems in school because they have to get up so early. Some kids are getting up at 5 a.m., 6 a.m.”
Only 15 percent of U.S. high schools currently have classes that start after 8:30 a.m. Deray explained that puberty causes many teenagers’ natural sleep-wake cycles to commonly keep them awake until at least 11 p.m.
“Teenagers’ bodies release melatonin later than (adults’) do,” Deray told HealthDay, noting a hormone the brain secretes in the evening to induce drowsiness. “The other issue, according to Owens, is that teenagers’ sleep needs are greater than many people think. They need nine to nine-and-a-half hours.”
But 43 percent of U.S. public high schools’ first period bells ring before 8 a.m., according to the U.S. Department of Education. About 20 percent of middle schools start before 8 a.m.
“And that’s the first bell,” Owens added. “That’s not even counting the commute time.”
The National Sleep Foundation has backed later start times for schools, but transportation, safety concerns and extracurricular activities and after-school jobs running too late have all hurt the argument.
One major step that Deray offers to sleepy students and their parents – electronic devices and other mental stimulation should be avoided just prior to bedtime.
“All electronic devices should be turned off an hour or two before bed,” he said. “The blue light from them suppresses melatonin production.”
Avoiding physical and mental stimulation before bed in addition to waking up earlier on weekends will also help students regulate their sleep schedules.
Previous studies have shown that adolescents’ mental health is negatively affected by a lack of sleep. With depression and suicidal thoughts increasing for some who don’t get the recommended nine hours of sleep each night. Obesity and higher rates of car accidents have also been linked to student sleep deprivation.
A Columbia University study from 2010 showed that adolescents who got five hours of sleep or less per night were 71 percent more likely to report being depressed, and 40 percent more likely to think of suicide.
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