Despite Recommendations, Many Schools Still Start too Early for Teens

Despite Recommendations, Many Schools Still Start too Early for Teens
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August 6, 2015

Data published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminded us all how tired we are and highlighted how few middle schools and high schools have adopted recommended start times.

Fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 a.m. start time or later during the 2011-2012 school year.

"Too-early start times can keep students from getting the sleep they need for health, safety, and academic success, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics," wrote the CDC in a release.

Biologically, your tired teen needs more sleep. Not getting enough sleep is common among overscheduled high school students and the results can be a hazard to their health. Lack of sleep is associated with several health risks such as obesity, drinking alcohol, smoking, and using drugs. Academic performance also suffers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 released a policy statement that urged school districts to modify start times to give students the opportunity to get enough sleep, about 8.5 to 9.5 hours.

Despite the call for a change, a survey of 40,000 public middle, high and combined schools found that 42 states reported that 75 to 100 percent of public schools in their respective states started before 8:30 a.m. The average start time was 8:03 a.m.

There are no federal or state mandates related to school start times and those decisions are made by districts, which means results of the study varied widely. More than 75 percent of schools in Alaska and North Dakota started at 8:30 a.m. or later. Alaska's average start time was 8:33 a.m. Louisiana, on the other hand, had the earliest at 7:40 a.m.

No schools in Hawaii, Mississippi and Wyoming started at 8:30 or later.

Switching start times is easier said than done for many districts. Buses are often used to transport kids to multiple schools so schedules need to be arranged to allow for this type of rotation. Parents have also complained that starting school later would eat into time allotted for after school activities, like sports, which might cause kids to practice in the dark.

Regardless of start time, the authors of the report said that there are a number of ways parents can try to improve sleep among their teens. Setting a consistent bedtime and rise times is recommended for everyone. Parents can also limit the use of screens – phones, computers, TVs – before bed.

For more information, visit the CDC website.