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Doctors Urge Schools to Push Back Start Times to Help Teens Get More Sleep

The Short of It

The American Medical Association has issued a new policy statement urging schools to push back their start times so teens are sure to get the optimal amount of shuteye.

The Lowdown

The AMA's proclamation comes on the heels of a new report endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics that emphasizes the importance of kids, especially teens, getting enough sleep. The AMA says starting school later will help adolescents get more rest, which will improve their academic performance.

So what is the best time for that first school bell to ring? According to the AMA, 8:30 a.m. is the earliest that middle and high school students should be expected in homeroom because research has shown puberty is accompanied by a biological shift in circadian rhythm that makes later bedtimes and wake-up times easier.

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An 8:30 start time may sound early, but not when you consider that 10 percent of schools currently start at 7:30 a.m. That means buses are coming as early as 6:30 a.m. So kids are getting up even earlier, often after staying up late to complete their homework or participate in extracurricular activities. The bottom line: kids aren't getting the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of snooze time each night.

"Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue affecting our nation's adolescents, putting them at risk for mental, physical and emotional distress and disorders," says Dr. William Kobler, of the AMA. "Scientific evidence strongly suggests that allowing adolescents more time for sleep at the appropriate hours results in improvements in health, academic performance, behavior, and general well-being."

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But I can get up early with no problem, you may be thinking. It's important to note teens are different from adults in that they are less "optimally alert" during the morning hours. No wonder I kicked off my morning coffee habit when I was 15!

The Upshot

It's easy to blame teens' sleepiness on laziness or their irritability on hormones, but this report offers another answer: they're just too tired! Here's hoping schools take a cue from the AMA's advice and push back their start times.

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In the meantime, it may be worth revisiting your child's schedule to see if there are things that can be eliminated or reworked in order to sneak in a few more hours of sleep.

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