Report: Doctors urge schools to start later in the day

American Academy of Pediatrics reccomends 8:30 a.m. start times

The struggle to get your teen up and off to school can be a daily ritual. Now a major medical group is calling the chronic sleepiness of teens a public health issue, and it’s recommending schools push back their start times.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics supports pushing back start times at high schools and middle schools to 8:30 a.m. or later. A teenagers natural sleep cycle makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m., say pediatric experts.

“When we hit our teenage years our circadian rhythm tends to switch and so we tend to want later bed times,” says Dr. Ivy Andersen, doctor of sleep medicine at Gundersen Health. “It’s just our natural rhythm our bodies tend to go to sleep later and then wake up later.”

According to their latest report the American Academy of Pediatricians says 87 percent of high school students get less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. If that pattern persists it can lead to a number of issues.

“Poor concentration, poor attention span, and some of it is mood changes,” says Andersen. “It can lead to drowsiness and that can be a big issue in teenager because they’re driving.”

Onalaska High School administrators considered pushing back the school’s 7:30 a.m. start time,  but decided against it after realizing factors beyond sleep time would be affected.

“One issue is that parents rely on high school and middle school age students to take care of younger sibling at the end of the school day,” says Jared Schaffner, principal of Onalaska High School. “The other problem we ran if we moved our start time back it would have a ripple effect on elementary schools because of the bus system.”

While research shows that later start times would be beneficial to teen, Dr. Andersen says no matter what time students begin it is important to make sleep a priority.

“Even if you move the bed time to 10 p.m. and establish a good bedtime routine usually your body will adjust,” says Andersen.