Children and teens in school are not getting sufficient sleep. And school schedules are to blame for it.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a set of guidelines recommending that school schedules are modified across the U.S. to start at 8.30 a.m. This way, children and teens would be able to meet the recommended sleep hours per night during school days.
The same recommendations suggested that indeed, the biological rhythm of teenagers particularly is very different than that of adults. While they need 8 and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep per night, their circadian rhythm doesn’t allow them to go to sleep before midnight or a little after.
With the high amount of requirements they need to meet for school, combined with the natural circadian rhythm and school starting hours, children and teens rarely catch sufficient sleep per night.
As such, forcing them to wake up and be actively involved in what is taught during classes is an overreach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study on Thursday, supporting the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the findings, 83 percent of U.S. schools still start before 8:30 a.m. On average, the starting time was calculated at 8:03 a.m., based on data collected from 39,700 combined schools, middle schools, and high schools between 2011-2012.
This issue is a heated debate topic. While parents’ associations are asking that school schedules are delayed as children and teens are facing problems with waking up early, catching school buses and being attentive in class, others are dismissing the issue as irrelevant to students’ performances or their health.
Safwan Badr, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine stated:
“It makes absolutely no sense. You’re asking kids to learn math at a time their brains are not even awake”.
On the other hand, Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the School Superintendents Association stated with regards to changing school starting time:
“It’s a logistical nightmare. This has been going on forever, and kids have been graduation from school and going to college. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt them all these years”.
This statement is however contradicted by a number of studies related to teens’ and children’s sleeping patterns and the impacts on both mental and physical health.
Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Boston’s Children Hospital suggests that chronically sleep deprivation characterizes the majority of today’s teens. This results in increased risk of onset depression, substance abuse, unhealthy BMIs. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation result in type 2 diabetes or heart diseases.
Maintain school starting time as it is will continue to impact the two thirds of children and teens who are chronically sleep deprived. Cutting REM sleep, typical between 6-9 a.m. for teens reduces their capacity to consolidate memories and remember the information they received in school.
Other suggestions targeted stricter parental control over children’s and teens’ sleeping hours and cutting access to devices that might distract them from getting sufficient sleep. However, these do not necessarily stand, as imposing sleeping hours for teens, aside from the hustle, is also detrimental to health simply for the fact their circadian rhythms are different.
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