Doctors Say We Should Let Students Sleep in Longer

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Here’s a scientific suggestion most kids will be pleased with: doctors say school should start later so students can sleep in.

In a new statement in the journal of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics says “chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm” for kids. Their pathological tiredness is so bad, it’s comparable to that in people suffering from actual sleep disorders. Indeed, more than 85% of America’s high school students are walking around with less than the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep on a day to day basis. And constantly having heavy eyelids can lead to snoozing when kids should be learning. Nearly 30% of students say they fall asleep during school every week, according to one poll by the National Sleep Foundation. For older kids, there’s an added danger of nodding off at the wheel. On top of all that, kids are turning to stimulants like coffee or taking prescription drugs to combat their exhaustion.

But believe it or not, most teens aren’t a bunch of lazy bones by choice. When we hit puberty, we become night owls thanks to a delayed release of melatonin, the chemical in our brains that controls our sleep cycles. As a result, our bodies want us to go to bed and wake up about two hours later than before. This can be a difficult adjustment for kids who don’t feel the pull of sleep until midnight and then have to rise at 6:00 in the morning to get to school an hour later, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

This is exactly why doctors are now urging schools to delay their start time until after 8:00 am to accommodate kids’ natural sleep cycles. Right now, only about 15% of all high schools start after 8, but a handful are heeding the doctors’ advice, and it’s paying off. Research published earlier this year from the University of Minnesota in St Paul showed that later start times improve grades, test scores, and lower teen car accidents by a dumbfounding 65 to 70 percent.

So just how late could start times get? “Anything is better than 8 am,” Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford, told New Scientist. “Moving to 8:30 will make a difference, but a 10 o'clock start would be even better.”