Later school start times prevent sleep deprivation for parents of middle and high school students


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Researchers at National Jewish Health have found that adolescents get more sleep when they start middle and high school about an hour earlier than their parents. However, parents of younger children got less sleep due to the earlier start time of elementary schools.

This study is the first to evaluate parent sleep as a result of changing school start times. National Jewish Health partnered up with Cherry Creek School District (CCSD), in Arapahoe County, near Denver, to study the effects of changing school start times. Elementary schools began an hour earlier than high schools, while high schools began 70 minutes later, and middle schools waited 50 minutes. Focus groups were conducted with parents to learn how the changes affected their sleep patterns and daily routines.

We know that adolescents are often sleep-deprived. "We know that adolescents are sleep deprived. However, we also know that school starts early can be a contributing factor. But children live in complex families. It was therefore important to examine the impact of policy changes on parents' sleep, and the whole family," explained Lisa Meltzer (PhD), a Pediatric Psychologist at National Jewish Health, and the lead author of this study.

Elementary school students had their bedtimes and wake hours adjusted slightly earlier by their parents without any noticeable impact on their sleep duration. Middle and high school students slept later than elementary school students, but they were able to wake earlier in the morning due to the earlier start times.

Dr. Meltzer stated that while it took some parents nine to ten minutes, for others it could take up to 25 minutes per night. Even a mere 10 minute a night can add up to almost an hour of sleep each week.

Parents who had children in middle and high school saw a higher percentage of their parents getting enough sleep. However, parents who were tired during the day fell.

Dr. Meltzer stated that parents were seeing the benefits of not having their children get up so early and drag them out of bed to get to school on time. Many parents stated that they felt it helped them sleep and made their morning routine more manageable. I believe these improvements in the family's functioning are very important.

Kelly Osuna has two teenage sons at home. She also interacts regularly with teenagers as a high school Spanish teacher at Overland High School.

“It used to be a constant struggle getting the students in my first class to come in ready to learn. They were constantly nodding off, and it was really hard for them to focus on what I was teaching,” Osuna said. “After start times were adjusted to later in the morning, I noticed a big difference in the mood that kids come to school in, and I think other districts would see that too, if they made the same switch.”

Osuna claims she can sleep an hour longer than she used to, and her mornings are more peaceful these days.

Osuna stated, “We actually have time to eat breakfast together before we go to school. And I notice that I still have some energy at the end of the day. I'm not dragging like I used to, so that helps our family time in the evening.”

Experts agree that swapping school start times can be difficult. Families would need modifications to bus routes and extracurricular programs. They would also have to adjust their schedules based on when their child started and ended the day. Dr. Meltzer believes it's worth the effort to work out how to change school start times in order for students' health and well-being and the families.

Dr. Meltzer stated that three out of four teenagers in America are currently getting less than seven hours sleep per night. He also said that early school start times were one of the main contributing factors. We know that sleep deprivation is linked to several health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This can also impact their ability to learn and pay attention in school.

Research shows that adolescents aren't biologically capable of rising early in the morning. The sleep hormone melatonin, which is released around two hours later during puberty, has been shown to be a problem. California passed a law requiring high schools to open at least 8:30 a.m. next school year. Experts hope that districts across the country will adopt similar changes due to the growing evidence of the benefits.

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