A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that teenagers really do need more sleep. The AAP has even gone so far as to recommend that schools adopt later starting times for classes to allow students to get the rest they need. The study found that the natural sleep cycles of adolescents make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11pm and has therefore recommended that schools move their start times to 8.30am to allow teens to get the 8.5 to 9.5 hours prescribed.
Sleep cycles or circadian rhythms are the biological schedules and are triggered by chemical, behavioral and psychological changes that happen in our bodies throughout the course of the day. A disruption in these patterns will lead to difficulties falling sleep or staying asleep.
When students don’t get enough sleep, they experience a loss of memory, delayed responses and an inability to concentrate that can affect their academic performance. A lack of concentration also leads to a higher accident rate among teen drivers.
Sleep-deprived students get sick more often which means they miss school. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to obesity and a higher risk of diabetes.
A survey by the National Sleep Foundation saw some disturbing statistics with 60% of high school students reporting extreme daytime fatigue with 25% falling asleep in class at least once a week. The main reason for this was that the average high school student got 6.5 hours of sleep per night; way below the recommended amount. “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 who led the study.
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “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.”
Dr. Owens has proposed that start times be changed in accordance with these findings: “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,” Owens said. “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.”