The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Monday called for a delay in middle and high school start times until 8:30 a.m. or later, citing chronic sleep deprivation in teens as a public health problem.
According to the AAP statement entitled “Let Them Sleep”:
“Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. – and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.”
Citing research showing that most teens don’t get the sleep they need, the statement continues: “The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.”
With some exceptions, Harford County middle schools start at 8:15 a.m.; high schools begin the day at 7:30 a.m. (Elementary school begins at 9:00 a.m.)
Sleep deprived teens are likely to cheer a delay. But opponents warn that a shift to later start times (and therefore, later dismissal times) would create new problems at school and at home. They cite conflicts for students who work or play sports after school. Conflicts would also arise for parents who rely on teens to be home in time to watch younger siblings getting off the bus. Others say that putting inexperienced teen drivers on the road during the morning rush hour would also risk public health.
So, which matters more, teen sleep or maintaining the status quo?