Many parents have pushed for a later start to the school day for teenagers, with limited success. But parents just got a boost from the nation's pediatricians, who say that making middle and high schoolers start classes before 8:30 a.m. threatens children's' health, safety and academic performance.
"We want to promote safety with kids," says Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children's Hospital. "We truly believe that our teenagers are getting six to seven hours of sleep a night, and they need eight to 10."
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling on school districts to move start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high schools, so that students can get at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night.
"It's making a very powerful statement about the importance of sleep to health," says Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep researcher at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wrote a review of the scientific evidence on teen sleep needs that accompanied the recommendation. "School start time is a cost-effective way to address this public health issue."
But it's a change that most school districts have yet to embrace. Right now just 15 percent of high schools start at 8:30 or later, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m.