Over the past decade mounting evidence finds that teens are chronically sleep deprived and subsequently suffering significant health effects. Chronic sleep deprivation is becoming the norm for our high schoolers and is known to cause both mental and physical health challenges. In fact The National Sleep Foundation found that over 85% of high schoolers aren’t getting the 8-10 hours of sleep they need while over 50% of middle school students are already falling behind in their zzzzz’s.
The evidence is in: teens who don’t get enough sleep can have academic challenges, an increase risk for sleepiness-caused car accidents, inattention, risk for overweight, risk for anxiety, greater use of stimulants like caffeine or prescription medications, and mood disorders.
This is a biology thing not a laziness thing. That teenager who can’t get out of bed until 11am on the weekends is just tired and trying to catch up! Puberty changes all sorts of things in our life, one major biologic shift occurs in the brain as children morph into adults. Around the age of 12, instead of naturally falling asleep at 8 o’clock like children in middle childhood, tweens and teens’ sleep cycle shifts about 2 to 3 hours making it a real challenge to fall asleep prior to 10 or 11pm. That means those teens up and awake until 11pm are really just acting their age.
The causes of sleep loss for teens are complex. Early school start times, use of electronics, smartphones, and tablets interfere with sleep as do homework, extra-curricular activities, and sports. But so do misperceptions — the same research that found over 85% of HS students weren’t getting enough sleep also noted that >70% of parents to those tired teens felt their child was getting enough sleep! We have to make sleep a priority in our homes.
The Problem With The Middle And High School Bell:
Many schools get going startlingly early which leaves teens very little time in bed. Students I see in clinic talk about “period zero” that starts prior to 7am — often the period is a chance for bible study, choir, music, or the activities like the school newspaper. It seems if you want to get involved, you get up early. In my opinion this is likely not in a teen’s best interest as most all of those teens I see are sleep deprived. However research finds even for those less eager students the school bell comes too soon. Over 40% of high schools in the US start prior to 8am while only 15% of schools in the United States start after the recommended 8:30am.
Consider letting your teen sleep until 7:00am?
When school starts early and teens aren’t off to sleep until around 11pm at night it’s impossible to get adequate sleep (8.5-9.5 hours) and arrive at school before 8am. Many teens are getting a mere 6 or 7 hours of sleep each night. Further, even though sleeping in on the weekends, taking naps after school, or drinking caffeine may help students survive immediate moments of drowsiness, those fixes don’t restore normal brain alertness that comes with sufficient sleep.
Shifting School Start Times:
Today the American Academy of Pediatrics took a bolder step issuing a new policy statement to ensure our nation starts to prioritize sleep. The AAP urged our nation to change start times to accommodate teen sleep, urging middle and high schools to strive for a start time after 8:30am to accommodate teens getting the 8-10 hours of sleep they need. They encourage pediatricians, teachers, coaches, and other stakeholders to talk about the cultural and biologic reasons teens get less sleep.
Pediatrician and lead author Dr. Judith Owens said, “The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth. By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”
For more information:
Let The Teens Sleep (reviews Seattle School Board decisions and data behind delaying school start times)