Among the public health issues that face teenagers in the United States, chronic sleep loss may be the easiest to fix. This is part of the thought process behind a policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that recommends delaying the start of the school day to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle school and high school students.
According to an AAP press release, statistics reveal that 59% of 5th through 8th graders and 87% of 9th through 12th graders aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep (8.5 to 9.5 hours). This can result in physical and mental health issues, a higher risk of car accidents and a drop in academic performance, reports the source.
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” said Dr. Judith Owens, lead author of the policy statement, in the press release. “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.”
The source cites homework, jobs, extracurricular activities and electronic devices as a few of the reasons why so many teenagers experience sleep deprivation. Add to this a natural sleep cycle that makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. in spite of situational factors and it’s no wonder teenagers are sleep-deprived – especially considering 40% of high schools start classes before 8 a.m.
“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” said Dr. Owens.
It will be interesting to see if the AAP’s recommendation yields any changes in middle schools and high schools across the country. In the meantime, if your teenager is showing signs of severe sleep deprivation, there’s a chance that he or she may be suffering from an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, in which case it’s important to consult a physician about potential treatment options.