Later School Start Times To Let Seattle Teens Sleep In
Seattle will soon become one of the nation’s largest districts to start public high schools later, at 8:45 a.m., to align with teen sleep cycles.
“This is a great win for our students,” Seattle School Board Vice President Sharon Peaslee told The Seattle Times. “We will unleash a torrent of public schools shifting to bell times that make sense for students.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school days begin after 8:30 a.m. to help teens combat sleep deprivation.
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. 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.
Earlier this year, after convening experts in the fields of sleep, anatomy, physiology, pediatrics, neurology, gerontology and gynecology, the National Sleep Foundation issued new recommendations calling for increased amounts of sleep in most age categories.
Here are the updated recommendations:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
Few teens currently sleep the recommended eight to 10 hours. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found fewer than a third of high school students sleep eight hours a night.
The urge teens feel to stay up later isn’t completely driven by late-night movies, web surfing and hanging out with friends. Naturally changing circadian rhythms play a strong role.
Younger children tend to feel sleepy between 8 and 10 p.m. because the pineal gland releases melatonin (the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle) early in the evening. But as children hit puberty, between the ages of 10 and 14, their bodies and brains go through myriad changes, including a delayed release of melatonin, usually 9 to 10 p.m. or later. That means they may have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. This natural shift, called “sleep phase delay,” can wreak havoc by preventing teens from getting a healthy amount of sleep.
Teens whose schedules are crammed with classes, sports, rehearsals, friends and homework may find getting nine or more hours of sleep per night a near impossible feat. One study found that only 15 percent of teens report sleeping at least 8½ hours per night during the week.
But the consequences of teen sleep deprivation are serious, including increased risk of depression, sickness, weight gain and acne. Studies show teens who are sleep deprived don’t learn as well, remember as much, or perform as strongly in sports.
And their risk of car accidents goes up. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration estimates that every year more than 40,000 injuries, and 1,500 people are killed in the U.S. in crashes caused by drivers who are simply tired. Young people under the age of 25 are far more likely to be involved in drowsy driving crashes. In one survey, half of teens reported driving a car while drowsy over the past year and 15% said they drove drowsy at least once a week.
Here’s an excellent summary article about the teen sleep cycle.
Read Dealing With Teen Sleep Deprivation on Wellbody Blog for tips on resetting a teen’s body clock (including wearing orange goggles at night to block electronic blue light) and embracing healthy sleep hygiene.
Visit Wellbody Academy’s hands-on Slumbertorium to learn about circadian rhythms and for more tips on sleep hygiene and sleep-proofing your bedroom.