School Bells Ring Too Early for Sleepy Teens, Doctors Say

Dragging teenagers out of bed so they get to school by the first bell is bad for their health, and U.S. pediatricians are trying to do something to change it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for secondary schools to push back their start times by an hour or more to at least 8:30 a.m. The move would better align teens’ natural sleep patterns, which make it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., with school schedules, said the group, the nation’s largest organization of doctors who care for children.

The litany of woes linked to a lack of sleep is long, going well beyond teenagers dozing off during first period or loading up on caffeinated drinks to stay awake. Along with suffering academic performance, sleep-deprived teens are more likely to have car accidents and to struggle with mental health issues including depression, and with weight gain, according to a policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics.

“When high school classes begin early in the morning, we ask teens to shine when their biological clock tells them to sleep,” said Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in a statement. “Many do not get adequate sleep as a result. Smarter school start times, that are more consistent with sleep needs, will improve students’ safety, overall health, mood and academic performance.”

Not Enough Hours

By the time they are in sixth grade, most American students are already falling short in the sleep department. Just 41 percent get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours a night, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. The statistics get worse as they get older, with 13 percent of high school students getting the amount of rest they need, the poll found.

“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 Judith Owens, a pediatrician and the lead author of the policy recommendation. “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.”

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