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Pediatricians Call for Later School Start Times to Combat Sleep Deprivation

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High schools and middle schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later to better sync schedules with students' natural sleep cycles, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy statement published Monday. At the start of puberty, sleep-wake cycles shift two hours later, making it difficult for students to wake up as early as they did when they were younger, the statement says.

"Studies show that adolescents who don't get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents, and a decline in academic performance," the statement says. "But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.—and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day."

Pediatrician Judith Owens, who authored the statement, called chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents "one of the most common—and easily fixable—public health issues in the U.S. today." 

"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," Dr. Owens said in a statement. "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."

Education Week's stories about sleep have been well read and a source of much discussion. This is clearly something district leaders are grappling with. Here's a sample:

But starting school later may be easier said than done. Many districts have explored the option, only to stick with their existing bell schedules. Earlier this year, for example, the Montgomery County, Md., school district decided not to move forward with a new bell schedule that would have moved high school start times 50 minutes later, citing "implementation costs of more than $20 million and mixed feedback from the community."

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