Teenagers and Sleep Deprivation: A Solution Schools Aren’t Accepting

What is one public health concern for which experts across the board have determined a reasonable solution? Sleep deprivation in teenagers exacerbated by the early start times of most public high schools. I know this problem firsthand. I have a teenage son who has to catch his bus for high school at 6:30 am. Most school nights he’s up until 11:00 pm doing homework, and then he gets up at 5:30 am so he’s able to get to the bus on time. Six and a half hours of sleep is not enough for a teenager!

Experts from the American Medical Association (“Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue affecting our nation’s adolescents, putting them at risk for mental, physical and emotional distress and disorders.…We believe delaying school start times will help ensure middle and high school students get enough sleep, and that it will improve the overall mental and physical health of our nation’s young people.”) to the CDC (“Starting school later can help adolescents get enough sleep and improve their health, academic performance, and quality of life.”) agree that later start times for schools will have beneficial effects on teenagers. However, even with research showing that later start times will help sleep-deprived teens, school districts have been slow to make changes, citing costs to switch the start times and the timing of after school activities.

Public schools are strapped for funds as it is, so any change that requires a large expenditure may be tough to implement. However, the benefits of improved academic performance and less tardies and absences due to teenagers getting more sleep would seem to outweigh the cost issue. The after-school activity argument is also hard to accept. Many extracurricular activities actually have early morning practices, meaning students have to leave their houses before 5:00 am to make it to practice. Also, some after school practices do not even start right after school. My son’s marching band practices usually start an hour or more after school lets out, meaning he has to come home and get back to school or just wait around the school for a few hours until practice starts.

California tried to pass legislation to require all schools to have start times no earlier than 8:30 am, but the legislation was put aside for the time being because there were not enough votes to pass it. It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out over the next few years as the medical evidence continues to show the problems with such early start times of high schools. Will school districts see the value in giving students a chance to be less sleep-deprived? Or will costs and other concerns keep the districts from implementing any changes in this regard? No matter what, if change comes, it will come too late for my teenage son who will be out of school before any change comes to his district.

Sources and for more information:

AMA Supports Delayed School Start Times to Improve Adolescent Wellness

CDC: Schools Start Too Early

If later school start times are better, why aren’t they more popular?

Why Does High School Still Start So Early?

Later school start times for California students laid to rest for the year

 

About Rachael Thompson

Rachael is a second-year law student at the University of Houston Law Center. She received her BA from Penn State and her MA from Duquesne University. She worked as an editor at Whitaker House and as the Assistant Director of Continuing Education at John Carroll University before taking time off to raise two boys.

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