One of the toughest things for parents as we return to in-person school may be getting their kids out of bed in the morning. But not everyone thinks that early to bed, early to rise is the best course of action for adolescents. The NJAAP Task Force on Adolescent Sleep and School Start Times supports efforts to delay middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later so that kids can get enough zzz’s.
And while the vast majority of New Jersey schools start before 8:30 am, there is no educational benefit to earlier start times, says the task force.
Deborah Steinbaum, a pediatrician with PediatriCare Associates in Fair Lawn who is a member of the task force, says teenagers are biologically programmed to go to sleep later and wake up later. “As soon as puberty starts, you’ll notice that the 9 p.m. bedtime is getting pushed to an hour later,” Steinbaum said. “Right about when that happens, schools start earlier and earlier.”
Steinbaum noted it’s often elementary schools that have later start times while middle and high schools may start as early as 7 a.m. “This is the absolute wrong thing to do as sleep is so important to all aspects of health,” she said.
“We know that sleep is important for memory. So when kids don’t get enough sleep they have less recall of the concepts they’ve learned.”
Steinbaum also said that kids who get 8 hours of sleep are 50 percent less likely to suffer sports injuries. “Kids who get the recommended amount are likely to have better grades. Their average SAT scores go up,” she noted.
Kids’ wellbeing is also greatly affected by sleep, she said. While those who get enough sleep are less likely to be anxious and depressed, if a child has ADHD, for example, lack of sleep can worsen symptoms.
According to the committee, the benefits of sleep include:
- Increased academic achievement
- Improved mental and physical health
- Enhanced athletic performance
- Reduction in automobile accidents
- Decrease in risk-taking behavior
- Reduction in stress, anxiety and depression
Steinbaum and her fellow committee members are advocating for later start times with 8:30 a.m. being ideal, but even seeing 8:15 a.m. as an improvement. “Some schools start so early that it really prevents kids from getting a good night’s sleep,” she said. “Those who take the bus have to get up even earlier.”
The committee has led a state-wide effort to delay school start times. Princeton School District has already changed its start times, giving kids much-needed shut-eye before they report for classes.
Steinbaum said one positive aspect of remote learning is that it allowed many kids to get adequate sleep. “Kids are waking up refreshed, happier and much more able to do their work,” she said. “The benefits are so obvious and important. There’s an epidemic of depression, suicide and anxiety and one of the easiest tools is to make sure everyone gets enough sleep.”
Do you feel your teens are missing out on sleep? Do support later school start times for middle and high school kids? Let us know in the comments.