Paediatrician warning: Teens should start school later in day

Paediatricians in the US recommend teens have a later start to the school day to combat sleep deprivation.

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My teenage son is already dreading the early mornings when school starts next week. And I can understand why: We haven’t seen his sleepy head before 9 a.m. all summer.

I often scoff at his comments that school should start a little later in the day to fit his sleep schedule. But it would appear he has a legitimate point after a group of paediatricians in the US recently said the desire to sleep in is not just laziness—teens should start school later in the morning because they require more sleep.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending later starts for both middle school and high school students in order to better align with their biological need for more sleep. They recommend schools open at 8:30 a.m. or later.

According to the Globe and Mail, the doctors’ group said that sleep deprivation in teens is the “most common, important and potentially remediable public-health risk among adolescents.”

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, moreover, they should be getting between nine and 10 hours of sleep a night—but any parent of a teen will tell you that it isn’t happening, for a variety of reasons. During puberty, the brain starts sending out less melatonin, resulting in a delayed “sleep drive”—which means teens likely won’t be tired until much later in the evening. This, combined with homework, after-school activities and a possible part-time job, means the majority of teenagers struggle to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

Sleep deprivation can lead to lower grades, poor attention spans, and memory issues. (No surprise to a parent of a moody teen). It can also be linked to obesity, depression and car accidents.

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The University of Minnesota found that, when schools started later, it resulted in higher grades and improved overall health for the majority of the 9,000 high school students involved in the study. But that’s not all. They also discovered that depression rates went down and there were 70 percent less car accidents involving teens.

Paediatricians believe that, instead of fighting a teens internal body clock, it’s time for schools to start accepting that kids focus better later in the morning. It may be time for change.

In the meantime, my son’s new high school has one scheduled late start per week. And we all look forward to it.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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