Later school start times could improve teens’ health

Later school start times could improve teens’ health

Teenagers are wired to stay up late, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As a result, delaying high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later would have a positive impact on students’ health, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that providing teenagers the opportunity to get more than eight hours of sleep every night could improve their health, safety, academic performance and quality of life.

“Because teenagers tend to stay up late, waking up early is not only difficult, but it can also negatively impact their health,” says Dr. Kerry Sheehan, pediatrician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight and avoid daily physical activity, according to the CDC. They are also more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms, perform poorly in school and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking and using drugs.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” which will be published in the September 2015 issue of Pediatrics. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

In New Jersey, a new state law requires that the state’s education department must study the feasibility, benefits and consequences of starting school later at the middle and high school levels.

Barriers to a later start include concerns over increased transportation costs because of bus schedule changes, the potential for traffic congestion, and difficulty in scheduling after-school activities, especially athletic programs. In Chicago, some high schools start as late as 9 a.m., but not all students like starting school late.

At one school, students protested a proposed late start, saying it would require them to take public transit during rush hour.

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  1. This is a false premise and the article itself points to inconsistencies. There is a difference between being “wired” to nocturnal activities and simply staying up late. This issue here really is two-fold – too many activities and the parent’s and/or child’s decision to say “no” to overcommitment and, second, discipline in maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. This includes the weekends.

  2. Teens aren’t the only ones who would be helped by later start times. Jobs should start at 10 AM for those who find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 PM.

  3. Kids would get to bed earlier if they had to do farm chores before school…most youngsters today are too wimpy, soft, and lack self-discipline…

  4. The after school activities and homework will not change if school starts later. A later school start only means the student will get to bed even later. The actual sleep time will not change. The commitment required for some extra curricular activities is incredible, especially in competitive activities (not just sports, but band and robotics). Also, honors and AP classes require students to do more independent studying just to keep up. Finally, cell phones and computers are a lure to a student to stay in the know about what is happening with other students (as well as a constant fight with a parent). A later school start time only takes care of the symptom but not the real issue of lack of sleep.

  5. Mom of Three Teenagers August 13, 2015 at 9:10 am · Reply

    Completed medical studies have shown that teenagers are in fact “Wired” differently. Their internal clock does not let them fall asleep earlier no matter what activities are done. I have football players that work harder than on a farm every morning from 7-noon and no matter how hard they try to go to bed at night earlier, their bodies do not fall asleep until after 11pm. Right now, during the summer, I am not concerned with school work, but the later start times would certainly benefit a teenager in school scores and in health benefits. It is ludacris that schools start elementary children at 9am and high schoolers at 7am …. anyone that has ever had a child knows elementary children go to bed by 8pm, therefore rise early. Teenagers inevitibly go to bed later with todays course loads and acitivites – it only makes so much sense to switch the start times.

About the Author

Lisa Parro
Lisa Parro

Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is manager of content strategy for Advocate Aurora Health. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.