The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement on Monday, August 25th, recommending that middle and high schools do not start classes until at least 8:30 a.m. The statement pointed to dozens of scientific studies that connected insufficient sleep among adolescents to academic, health, and public-safety problems. The new AAP policy recommendation calls teen sleep deprivation “one of the most common, important, and potentially remediable health risks in children.”

Starting School

Currently, more than 40% of U.S. high schools start earlier than 8 a.m., which has negative effects on the safety, well-being and education of millions of teenagers, according to Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center located in Washington D.C., and the lead author of the AAP report.

Statement from Dr. Judith Owens on starting school

“We really feel that this is such a compelling health problem that it really is in the best interest of students for schools to take this step,” Owens explained in an interview. “We’re hoping the more we educate school districts and various stakeholders, the more schools will actually implement this on a practical basis.”

Medical evidence starting school later is better

Those advocating later school start times say the extensive medical research on the subject is unequivocal. “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,” Owens said in the report. “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.”

Potential problems

School administrators and others point out that changing school schedules is logistically complicated and politic process than most would like to admit, and the subject has been hotly debated in school districts nationwide. Opponents to starting school later point out significant issues including bus-route complexities, parents’ work schedules, higher costs and the impact on sports practices as reasons to avoid rolling back school start times. They argue if parents just make sure that teenagers get to bed reasonably early on school nights then everyone will get enough sleep and the problem is eliminated.