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Do sleepy teens need later school start times? Pediatricians say yes

If you thought trying to get a groggy teenager out of bed in time for school each morning was your own private struggle, you thought wrong.

The American Academy of Pediatrics declared the chronic sleepiness of our nation's teenagers a public health issue in a policy statement Monday. To help fix the problem, the organization called for middle and high schools to push back their start times by 30 minutes to an hour to allow students to get more rest.

"A substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss," the organization said. "The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students."

Sleep deprivation in teenagers is widespread. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. high school students are getting less than the recommended 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep, and high school seniors get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, on average, the academy says.

In addition, 28 percent of high school students report falling asleep at school at least once a week, while 20 percent say they fall asleep while doing homework with similar frequency.

The exhaustion has serious consequences. The academy reports that the average teenager in the U.S. regularly experiences levels of sleepiness similar to those in people with sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Adolescents are also at higher risk for car accidents resulting from drowsy driving. And lack of sleep affects mood, attention, memory and behavior control.

"This research indicates that the average teenager in today's society has difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. and is best suited to wake up at 8 a.m. or later," the academy's statement says.

As of the 2011-12 school year, 43 percent of U.S. public high schools had a start time before 8 a.m.

The academy acknowledges that later start times can be hard for schools to implement logistically, but members argue that it is worth the effort.

Do sleepy teens need later school start times? Pediatricians say yes 08/25/14 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2014 11:26pm]
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