Chronic sleep loss in adolescents is associated with decreased motivation and cognitive deficits with impaired attention and memory, lower academic achievement, poor school attendance and increased dropout rates.
ON Nov. 4, the Seattle School Board will vote on a plan to change school start times across the district. The primary aim of this initiative by the district’s superintendent is to delay start times for high school students by approximately one hour.
We urge the board and the community to support delayed high-school start times, which would directly benefit our current and future teenagers in Seattle.
Chronic sleep loss in teenagers is now recognized as a major public-health problem. An entire generation of adolescents are entering adulthood after years of chronic sleep loss and all the potential adverse effects. One goal of science is to help leaders implement policy changes to improve the future, and our district leaders should do so now to improve the health and safety of teenagers in Seattle. Delaying high-school start times is the best thing to do for all teenagers in Seattle.
Research shows that teenagers are not biologically ready to fall asleep much earlier than 11 p.m.; they are not alert and awake until well after 8 a.m. Most high schools require students to start first period at or before 7:50 a.m., which means periods of alertness that foster learning and peak performance are completely misaligned with school schedules.
In addition to early school start times, less parental control over bedtime, parental work schedules, heavy homework loads, ubiquitous media and cellphone use, our current 24/7 culture, and work and sports obligations contribute to teens not getting the amount of sleep they need for adequate health, growth and development. Weekend catch-up sleep doesn’t make up for lost sleep.
Chronic sleep loss in adolescents is associated with decreased motivation and cognitive deficits with impaired attention and memory...”
Chronic sleep loss in adolescents is associated with decreased motivation and cognitive deficits with impaired attention and memory, lower academic achievement, poor school attendance and increased dropout rates. It is also linked to serious physical and mental-health problems, such as increased obesity risk, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disorders and increased risk for mood disorders (anxiety and depression).
Sleepy teenagers have increased rates of motor-vehicle crashes from drowsy driving, and exhibit risky behavior and poor impulse control. Adequate sleep is important for the development of prefrontal regions of the brain, essential to behavioral regulation and impulse control, which remain underdeveloped until about 25 years old. We need to protect sleep for our teens, whose brains and bodies are still growing, maturing and developing.
Based on robust research findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that teenagers receive nine hours of nightly sleep for optimal health and brain development. Furthermore, data from completed and ongoing studies in school districts that delayed secondary school start times show improvements in student achievement and other outcomes (for example, increase in the amount of nightly sleep and less daytime sleepiness). They also are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, improve performance, show better emotional stability and have a decreased rate of motor-vehicle accidents.
This is an opportunity for the district to positively impact public health at a level and breadth of reach that is beyond anything else on their agenda. The positive health benefits would help those across all cultures and socioeconomic strata, as all our teens share the same biology. We cannot continue to deny our students the benefit of this medical knowledge. The School Board could lead this effort by allowing for the basic fundamental need for adequate sleep by starting secondary schools later.
It’s important for parents and teens both to realize that moving back school start times is not a free pass to stay up later. To get the most of this added sleep opportunity, institute a screentime blackout — no cellphone, iPad, TV or computer use during the hour before bed. Making the screentime blackout a family affair (parents, too!) can help get everyone on board.