Doctors Push For Later School Start Times So Teens Can Get Enough Sleep

by Maria Guido
Image via Shutterstock

The American Medical Association recommends later school start times for teens

The American Medical Association announced this month that they support delayed school start times to “improve adolescent wellness.” There’s a reason it’s so hard to get your teenager out of bed in the morning. It turns out our teens are basically hardwired to stay up late and wake up late. Maybe it’s time we stop fighting against that.

“Before puberty, your body makes you sleepy around 8:00 or 9:00 pm. When puberty begins, this rhythm shifts a couple hours later. Now, your body tells you to go to sleep around 10:00 or 11:00 pm,” says a UCLA study on sleep and teens. “The natural shift in a teen’s circadian rhythms is called ‘sleep phase delay.’ The need to sleep is delayed for about two hours.”

The AMA recognizes this poses a problem for teens expected to perform so early in the morning. Ten percent of U.S. high schools today begin at or before 7:30 a.m. Even with the more common start time of 8:30, how is a teenager expected to get the required 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night, if their bodies are fighting sleep until after 11pm?

“The new policy specifically calls on school districts across the United States to implement middle and high school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m.,” the press release from the AMA newsroom reads. “The new policy also encourages physicians to actively educate parents, school administrators, teachers and other community members about the importance of sleep for adolescent mental and physical health based on their proven biological needs.”

Inadequate sleep is linked to a host of physical and mental issues. The AMA reports “mental manifestations of inadequate sleep often include poor memory performance and mood disorders. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are also more evident with those who get less than six hours of sleep each night.” Thanks, science. There really is a reason our teenagers act so exhausted in the morning. We thought they were just being dramatic.

AMA Board Member William E. Kobler sums it up: “While implementing a delayed school start time can be an emotional and potentially stressful issue for school districts, families, and members of the community, the health benefits for adolescents far outweigh any potential negative consequences.”