Adjusting to later school start times is good for adolescents’ overall health: Opinion

As a pediatrician and child and adolescent psychologist, like so many of our colleagues, we see teens suffering the consequences of not getting enough sleep each day. We treat children who need to wake up at 5:30am, get ready for school, and be at a bus stop by 6:15am. We hear from concerned parents and teachers about teens sleeping in school — or even not going to school at all — getting poor grades, seeing decreased athletic performance, and struggling with social interactions, mood disorders, and other mental health issues. We notice that they don’t exercise enough and skip meals because they are so tired that they often nap all afternoon and evening, which only makes it harder to fall asleep well past midnight.

More:Why a teacher says a new start time could harm families at his JCPS school

We see teenagers sleeping in the waiting rooms and on examination tables in our offices.

There is no simple solution. While helpful, just telling teens to turn off their devices and go to bed earlier doesn’t change the outcome.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the American Medical Association all agree that later school start times make sense for middle and high school kids. The AAP has been advocating for age-appropriate start times for schools since at least 2014, noting that biological differences naturally make it difficult for most teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. healthy brain and physical health, which is generally considered to be 8.5-9.5 hours per night. Many teens and adolescents try to catch up on some sleep on weekends, reducing their “sleep debt,” but this can disrupt circadian rhythms and exacerbate their morning sleepiness at school. It’s an endless cycle.

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The consequences of insufficient sleep are many. Sleep-deficient teens suffer from high rates of accidental injury, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Their mental health also suffers. Problems with inattention, behavior, and learning, as well as depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts are all increased by regularly sleeping less than the recommended amount. The current rates of depression and anxiety in teens are pandemic. As providers, we can’t even begin treating these conditions if a teen doesn’t have a baseline of adequate sleep. Something has to change.

The biological factors that cause middle and high school students to stay awake later and need more sleep cannot be changed. School starting times are. Research is clear that school districts that have shifted to later middle and high school start times are seeing higher attendance rates, higher GPAs, and better scores on state tests and college admissions. Focus and attention, as well as the quality of child-family interactions, also improved. Later start times led to fewer car accidents involving students, fewer students sleeping during instruction, and fewer school disciplinary actions (APA, 2014).

While JCPS and all comparable school systems face a complex combination of factors to weigh, we support moves toward later school start times for middle and high school students. It is an essential step towards the overall health of our teens.

More:JCPS Families: This is the exact time your child’s school could start next year

Matthew Kinney, MD is a pediatrician and medical director of the Norton Children’s Medical Group – Novak Center, affiliated with the University of Louisville School of Medicine and is the father of a JCPS student with a different set who will start kindergarten in the fall . Katy Hopkins, PhD is a child and adolescent psychologist and medical director of Pediatric Integrated Behavioral Health at Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the University of Louisville School of Medicine and is the parent of two JCPS elementary and middle school students.

This article originally appeared in Louisville Courier Journal: Why Adjusting to Later School Start Times Improves Adolescent Health

Adjusting to later school start times is good for adolescents’ overall health: Opinion

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