Why Improve Sleep for Teenage Students?

Our Executive Summary and Impact Statement offer an overview.

1. Sleep, like food and water, is required for life.  Biologic changes during the adolescent years shift the natural bedtime and rise time a few hours later. The current practices of early morning school and activity start times, combined with teens’ later bedtimes, means that most teenagers are unable to obtain the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep on school nights. Thus, many teens in the U.S. are experiencing the negative health and safety impact of chronic insufficient sleep.

2. Research shows that delaying school start times in order to better align with a teenager’s biological clock can substantially improve the overall health, academic and athletic performance, and safety of adolescents in our communities.  This evidence has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) along with others to make policy statements advising 8:30 a.m. or later school start times for middle and high schools.

3. School districts that have delayed school start times report high staff and parent satisfaction with schedules, better outcomes for student health and well-being.  Negative consequences that were predicted from the schedule changes did not materialize.

4. A successful change in school schedules is a highly-planned local governance process that incorporates education, engagement, and change management.  Other districts that have successfully navigated this transition are more than willing to share their experiences, tools and resources to communities undergoing this process.

Impact Statement:

Sufficient sleep (8-10 hours a night for teens) provides the brain with the ‘offline’ time it needs to maintain health and promote learning. Sleep restores the body and brain by:

  • Clearing the brain of the daily accumulation of neurotoxins
  • Optimizing brain connections for learning, memory and mood
  • Balancing hormones for growth and immune function

Insufficient sleep impairs brain function in a way that cannot be restored with caffeine or by “just trying harder to sleep.” The consequences of chronic insufficient sleep include impaired judgement, increased risk behavior, deficits in learning and problem solving, and increase risk for obesity and emotional disturbances like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Many factors, like parent involvement and reduced electronic device use, can influence the likelihood of teens obtaining sufficient sleep. The largest impact occurs when public policies, like school start times are adjusted to align with the teenager biological clock. With this adjustment, research shows that teens get more sleep. The benefits of this change go far beyond improved teen health.  When schools adopt later school start times, improvements are noted in physical and mental health, academic and athletic performance, and safety of adolescents in our communities.

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