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Let Teens Sleep for Peak Academic Performance

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Let Teens Sleep for Peak
Academic Performance

By Jeff Ribordy, MD

For those of us who currently have or have raised teenagers, it is not surprising that studies have shown US teens to be chronically sleep deprived. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59% of middle-schoolers and 87% (!!) of high-schoolers were not getting the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep per night. The average was seven hours for high school seniors. Sleep-deprived teens have been shown to be at risk for such issues as mood, attention, memory, or behavior problems. They also more often have worse school performance. Numerous studies show a direct relationship between decreased sleep and worse academic achievement from middle school through college-aged students.

Due to biological changes brought on by puberty, there is actually a shift in the sleep-wake cycle of about two hours – meaning teens often cannot fall asleep until late. They also tend to wake up later, as all parents know so well. The ideal amount of sleep doesn’t change from younger ages and remains from 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours per night. However most teens find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 PM meaning they should be waking up about 8 AM for optimal sleep.

The main reason for teens’ lack of sleep has been shown to be early school start times. This means when the school day starts before 8:30 AM. Research has proven that delaying school start times is an effective solution and provides benefits to their health and school performance. However, according to the latest US Department of Education data,  43% of U.S. public high schools start before 8 AM.

To address this issue the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a new policy statement,  “School Start Times for Adolescents,” to advocate for later school start times for teenagers.

Many school districts across the country have already recognized this problem and responded by having later start times. Research has shown the following benefits:

- Improved total sleep time without later bedtimes;

- Decreased levels of reported sleepiness and fatigue;

- Improved school attendance;

- Less reported depression and improved motivation; and

- Decreased number of automobile accidents involving high school students.

Interestingly, improvements in academic performance have been somewhat mixed. Some studies have shown only small improvement while others are more remarkable. One research group demonstrated greater improvement in middle school students at the lower end of test scores compared to the above average group. These changes lasted through high school.

This appears to be an important area to advocate for our adolescents – because wouldn’t everyone benefit from less-grumpy teens?

 

Dr. Jeff Ribordy is a Regional Medical Director of Partnership HealthPlan of California (PHC).