Do schools start too early?

Do schools start too early?

"I'm tired," yawned my middle schooler at breakfast this morning. Turns out, she's not the only sleepy tween/teen and the nation's pediatricians are out to change that.

What are the doctors' orders? Let the tweens and teens sleep in and have school start later.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a new policy today recommending that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later.  The policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” was announced online and published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.

The AAP said in a statement that the majority of schools start too early and the delay of the school bell "will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty."

That's a pretty big shift in this country, where the median middle school start time is 8 a.m. High schools start even earlier, with an estimated 40 percent of U.S. high schools starting class prior to 8 a.m.  The AAP reports that only only 15 percent follow its new recommendation and start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

The AAP cited a National Sleep Foundation poll which found that 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders were getting insufficient sleep, meaning less than then recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on a school night.

High school students sleep even less, according to the poll, with a whopping 87 percent of them sleeping less than 8.5 hours per night. One possible reason for the increase is that teen's natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. That in and of itself wouldn't be so bad, if they didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn for school the next morning.

The reasons for tweens and teens not sleeping enough are complex and vary child to child, but the AAP concluded that in addition to homework and technology keeping kids awake at night, getting up early in the morning for school "is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents."

It's worth noting that the statement also said that napping and sleeping later on weekends are not sufficient replacements the sleep lost on school nights.

Kids who do not get enough sleep at night can have health problems and do not do as well in school as their rested counterparts, studies have shown.

This isn't necessarily a new thought. In her book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, published in 2006, author Alexandra Robbins called for delayed high school start times despite strong opposition to doing so.

Robbins spoke with one school superintendent who managed to succeed in securing a later high school start time. The results were so positive that he said it was one of the best things he did in his career as an educator.

My child's junior high starts at the median time of 8 a.m., but students are to arrive well before then.  What really scares me, though, is high school. The bus picks up kids in our neighborhood at 6:45 a.m.  That is awfully early. Too early, I've always thought, and now there's an official statement from the AAP backing up that belief.

I'm really hoping that school officials take this heart and make the changes needed for our child to be happiest and learn best, and that means pushing back school start times.

Do you think school starts too early in your community? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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