Teenagers are gleeful, unabashedly cheering a hearty hurrah and “Heck yeah, let’s do it!” at the news of pediatric research released Aug. 25, 2014, by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommending more sleep and delayed school start times for adolescents heading back to classrooms. In the wake of recent studies showing a strong correlation between adolescent sleep schedules and their ability to function at school during the day, the AAP now prescribes additional sleep as the best cure for the myriad of health issues caused by neural disruptions that interfere with teens’ sleeping patterns. The interruption to their circadian rhythms explains the bleary eyes and frayed tempers when early school start times cut short their sleep period and give impetus to propositions for secondary schools to adjust their schedules in the interest of teens’ health, academic and social performance.
The AAP news announcement explains that pediatric research shows that puberty brings about a biologically driven shift that delays the timing of the melatonin release and flips a homeostatic switch that sparks a teenager’s natural rhythms of waking and sleeping. Their report cites a National Sleep Foundation poll that documents a growing trend of sleep deprivation starting at puberty, finding that 59 percent of middle-schoolers and 87 percent of high-schoolers are not getting the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. The neural shifts in the adolescent brain leave many teens lying awake until at least 11:00 p.m. with an early morning class starting before 8:00 a.m., affecting their school performance – not to mention their cheer meter – more than parents realize, according to developmental pediatrician and chair of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee, Dr. Jeffrey K. Okamoto.
If the study had its own Facebook page, the cheers from teens upon hearing its recommendations would make the “like” button go viral in a matter of seconds. Positive comments abounded from Oregon teens, William, Tessa, Hailey and Ellie who did not hesitate to endorse the idea of scientific support for their case for sleeping in. Enthusiasm spilled out with declarations of “Perfect!” and “I agree 100 percent!” Ellie liked the idea and her mother Jen confirmed that their family had experienced the teenage sleep difficulties that the study describes and had recently discussed the phenomenon. Therefore, she believes there is something to the reasoning and the recommendations.
Dr. Judith Owens, author of the AAP report, Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults, warns that lack of sleep can cause a chain reaction of impaired thinking as well as physical repercussions. She explains that young people who do not sleep sufficiently can struggle with depression that may lead to risky behaviors, thoughts of suicide, poor judgment and apathy that make it challenging to focus in class and remember the things they need to know and do to succeed academically.
Automobile accidents, drug abuse, drunk driving, violence and sexual promiscuity can be a problem for the sleep-deprived teen, Owens further asserts. Moreover, the lack of sleep puts teenagers at greater risk for heart disease, obesity and other health issues. However, it is an easily fixable problem and pediatric researcher Owens’ pronouncement is likely to make her many young friends who cheer her insistence that delayed school start times allow teens to sleep out their circadian cycle and be better prepared to learn and grow.
AAP statistics estimate that the majority of middle and high schools start earlier than 8:00 a.m., adding weight to parents’ and health officials’ concern for the health effects of their teens’ sleep deprivation problems. Owens asserts that well-rested teens reduce their risk of car crashes, weight problems and depression and find that their report cards, test scores and quality of life shapes up with more time in slumberland. Naps, extra sleep on the weekends and caffeine only provide temporary relief from exhaustion and do not bring teenagers to peak alertness. Only a habit of ample sleep can bring about sustained positive results and although youth predictably favor suggestions of delayed school start times, districts face many logistical challenges in making that happen.
Transportation, extra-curricular activities, sports and after school jobs would all have to undergo an adjustment if school hours were changed, not to mention modifying teacher schedules and in some cases, disrupting parents babysitting and daycare arrangements for younger siblings. Teenagers craving more sleep can be of good cheer, however, as many of the people involved in carrying out the pediatric endorsement are not solidly opposed to the possibility of delayed starts, but express concerns about implementation that need to be researched and addressed before moving forward with fulfilling teenage dreams of more shuteye.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Emerging Research
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Javier Duarte
: Let Them Sleep
American Academy of Pediatrics: Sounding Alarm