Are later school start times the answer for sleepy kids?
Are kids not getting enough sleep, and are school start times to blame?
A poll taken by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of children under the age of 18 told their parents they were tired throughout the day, and 15 percent reported falling asleep at school. One study, out of the University of Minnesota, discovered that students’ grades and health improved when schools started later in the morning.
The project spanned three years and looked at data from thousands of students attending eight high schools across several states. They found that when schools switched to a later start time, there was an improvement in attendance, daytime alertness and a decreased number of students reporting depression. They also found standardized test scores and performance in subjects like math, social studies and science improved.
“Adolescents experience a delay in their circadian sleep phase, causing them to naturally fall asleep later and wake up later,” explains Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a pediatric sleep medicine physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “This is a normal phenomenon in sleep physiology and eventually resolves later in life.”
It can be difficult for schools to make the switch to later start times. A later start would mean that school also ends later in the day, which cuts down on available time for after-school activities and sports.
The American Medical Association reported that inadequate sleep has been linked to many mental and physical problems, such as poor memory performance and mood disorders to impaired immune function and unhealthy body mass index.
“The data is clear: adjusting school start times to match adolescent sleep physiology improves emotional, neurocognitive and social functioning,” says Dr. Loghmanee. “Our willingness to sacrifice these essential aspects of life in favor of preserving the opportunity to participate in sports or after-school activities suggests that the individuals, institutions and communities that make up our society would do well to re-evaluate our priorities.”
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