Despite Benefits, Parents Split on Later School Start Times


About half of parents who participated in a recent survey think it is a good idea to push back school start times because of the benefits to teen health, writes Robin Erb of the Detroit Free Press.

At the same time, the logistics of such a change could become a nightmare for transportation and after-school activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools begin classes at 8:30 or later. However, the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health doctors wanted to know how parents feel about this change, according to Dr. Matthew Davis, the director of the National Poll on Children's Health at the U-M Medical School.

Davis is also a public policy and public health professor. He believes that teens have chronic sleep deprivation. Research has found several possible causes for this, from hormonal changes that shift teens' body clocks about two hours wreak havoc with sleep cycles to social interactions and homework causing teens to go to sleep too late to achieve the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. If an alignment of adolescent sleep patterns and the start of the school day could be established, physical and mental health could improve.

About 2 in 5 parents believed that later start times would allow their children to get more sleep; 1 in 5 said it would improve school performance; 1 in 5 said a later start time would allow enough time for after-school activities; 1 in 7 expected transportation issues; about 1 in 4 would only support delayed start times if school budgets were not impacted; 1 in 4 said they would support the change regardless of school budget changes; 1 in 5 parents had heard of the proposed change last year, but 71% agreed with the guidelines once they were told about them.

Dr. Davis detailed that evidence alone may not be enough for a swift change:

"Teenagers are chronically sleep-deprived and that can negatively impact their health and well-being. We know teens are biologically wired to have later sleep cycles, which has raised the question of whether school start times that align to adolescents' natural sleep rhythms could help improve health outcomes. The idea to delay school start times is still fairly new, and our poll shows that parents seem conflicted about whether or not it's the right move."

James C. Kelly of MedScape writes that US adolescents have become more sleep-deprived after 1990, according to an article published online this month in Pediatrics. Sleep decreases hit 15-year-olds the hardest with adequate sleep dropping from 71.5% in 1991 to 63% in 2012. Girls were more likely to be affected than boys, along with racial/ ethnic minorities, city dwellers, and those from poor families.

Teenagers who were minority students and were from poor families often had the idea that they were getting enough sleep, even though they may not have been. The factors that could be contributing to the lack of sleep for teens in minority groups and low-income families are differences in attitudes toward sleep, sleep patterns within families and night time social activities.

Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, and colleagues studied data from 1991 through 2012 on 272,077 teens from Monitoring the Future, a national cross-sectional survey of teen cohorts. The adolescents were asked how often they got 7 hours of sleep at night and how often they got less. Nine hours of sleep a night is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for teens.

"There was consistent evidence of a period effect whereby sleep was decreasing regardless of age in more recent years for all subgroups, and some evidence of a positive cohort effect (ie, increase) for those born in the early 1990s, but only for self-perceived adequate sleep and only in some subgroups," the authors write.

02 23, 2015
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