Study Shows that Many U.S. Middle and High Schools Start Too Early

Sound Sleep Tips for School-Age Children

Teenage girl sleeping

Sleep plays an important role in memory, attention, emotional well-being, and overall physical health. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised middle and high schools External Web Site Policy to change their start times to 8:30 a.m. or later to enable students to get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

Research shows that about 7 out of 10 U.S. high school students sleep for fewer than 8 hours on school nights. Insufficient sleep because of late bedtimes and early wake-up times for school is linked to poorer school performance, emotional health problems, injuries, and riskier behaviors.

Results from a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study analyzing U.S. Department of Education data from the 2011–2012 school year suggest that many schools open earlier than the AAP-recommended start time. Of the approximately 40,000 middle and high schools surveyed, only 1 in 5 schools opened at 8:30 a.m. or later, and the average start time was 8:03 a.m. Researchers also found that start times varied greatly among states, with public schools in 42 states starting before 8:30 a.m.

To further support healthy sleep habits in adolescents, experts are seeking to develop additional consensus guidelines, statements, and evidence-based documents to help spread the word about sleep recommendations from the AAP and other organizations.

“Sleep recommendations are helpful if followed consistently, and researchers are striving to increase our understanding of the role of sleep in children’s health, development, and behavior,” said Lynne Haverkos, M.D., M.P.H., director of NICHD’s Behavioral Pediatrics and Health Promotion Research Program, part of the Child Development and Behavior Branch.

According to Dr. Haverkos, parents can take these steps to help their children get better sleep:

  • Follow regular bed and wake-up times 7 days a week.
  • Provide a quiet, dark, comfortably cool, but not cold, bedroom.
  • Keep TVs out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Establish a time when all electronic devices (TVs, cell phones, computers, etc.) are silenced for the night.
  • Have children avoid large meals, caffeinated beverages (energy drinks, soft drinks, coffee, tea, hot chocolate), strenuous exercise, and highly stimulating TV shows shortly before bedtime.

“Parents also can serve as good role models for their children by showing that they recognize the need for and value of good quality sleep,” Dr. Haverkos said.

Taking steps like these to improve sleep habits has the potential to improve school performance and emotional and physical health for years to come.

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Originally Posted: November 23, 2015

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