For Release: August 25, 2014
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.
In a new policy statement published online Aug. 25,
the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools
delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school
schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake
cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is
one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S.
today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy
statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents
,” published in the September
2014 issue of Pediatrics.
“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. “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
Many studies have documented that the average
adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy.
A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th
graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less
than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.
The policy statement is accompanied by a technical
report, “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on
Causes and Consequences,” also published online Aug. 25. The technical report
updates a prior report on excessive sleepiness among adolescents that was
published in 2005.
The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex,
and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of
technology that can keep them up late on week nights. The AAP recommends
pediatricians counsel teens and parents about healthy sleep habits, including
enforcing a media curfew. The AAP also advises health care professionals to
educate parents, educators, athletic coaches and other stakeholders about the
biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep.
But the evidence strongly suggests that a too-early
start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation
among American adolescents. An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S.
currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m.
or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent
of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.
Napping, extending sleep on weekends, and caffeine
consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore
optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep, according
to the AAP.
The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for
start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night.
In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though
schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.
“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful
statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and
well-being of our nation's youth,” Dr. Owens said. “By advocating for later
school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both
promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time
delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and
encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an
organization of 62,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical
subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health,
safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For
more information, visit www.aap.org