Does your teenager get enough sleep? The answer is probably no, and research proves it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on teen sleep in 2016. It showed 69 percent of high school students sleep less than eight hours on an average school night. The recommended amount is eight to 10 hours.
Experts say lack of sleep and early school start times can lead to poor grades, more car crashes, depression and even suicide. A growing chorus of health professionals say steps need to be taken to prevent your teen from being too sleepy for school.
Brooklyn Ross and Ashleigh Mast are juniors at Paducah Tilghman High School, and their first class starts at 7:22 a.m.
“Usually in my first hour, like, I’m struggling. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s going on,’ and then later on I’m good,” Ross said.
“A lot of the times I wish I could sleep in,” Ross laughed.
Ashleigh relies on caffeine to get going, but that wears off.
“By the end of the day, I’m completely exhausted. Don’t know what I’m hardly doing by the end of the day. It’s very tiring,” Ashleigh said.
Both teens say some students show up late because they’ve slept in, and some even fall asleep on their desks.
Ashleigh’s mother, Melisa Mast, is an advocate for starting high school at a later time.
“My biggest issue has always been: I felt like my girls need more hours of sleep even than what was recommended,” Melisa said. “I have read those exact same studies, actually, because I’ve always been so intrigued by this.”
Sleep researchers say during puberty teens can’t fall asleep until 11 p.m., and their brains stay in sleep mode until at least 8 a.m. The National Sleep Foundation recommends teenagers between ages 13 and 18 get eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. Only 15 percent of high schools in America start at 8:30 a.m. or later.
Experts say there’s a link between better grades, higher graduation rates, increased attendance and a later start time.
Stacy Simera is the communications director for the nonprofit group Start School Later.
“The goal is typically to raise awareness among the administration in the school system — so, the school boards and superintendent — and to gather support within the community and educate all stakeholders,” Simera said. “A lot of school leaders aren’t aware of this science, aren’t aware of the biology of sleep.”
There are currently 112 volunteer-led chapters of Start School Later in 28 states and Washington, D.C.
“Either not getting enough sleep or not sleeping at the time you’re wired to sleep, we know that chronic deficient sleep has been correlated with a whole host of problems: increased car crash rates, increased rates of depression and suicide,” Simera said.
A later start time takes convincing. The biggest barrier is that human beings don’t like change. Proponents say there’s also the incorrect perception that a delayed start time negatively affects sports and extracurricular activities and that the hassle of changing transportation schedules is too daunting.
“It was an adjustment when I had to first get used to using car seats. Those are a pain. It’s an adjustment, and it takes a lot of time to put on sunscreen on my kids, to take them to doctors appointments. I’m never going to say that anything that we do that’s in the best interest of children is always convenient for adults. However, I’ve seen the benefits when kids get more sleep and parenting is so much easier when you have a happier child. And parenting is much more gratifying when you have a healthy child,” Simera said.
Parents like Melisa Mast agree. “There’s got to be some kind of shift and we’ve got to put the priority on the fact that the kids are more productive during the day, which is really what school is supposed to be about,” she said.
Who likely doesn’t need convincing? Teenagers.
“We are always complaining about how early it is and how much we don’t want to be there that early in the morning, but as teenagers, it’s our job, so we kind of have to right now,” Ashleigh Mast said.
There are no schools in the Local 6 area with delayed start times, specifically, in an effort to adapt to the sleeping habits of high school teens. In addition to Start School Later, there are other organizations working to influence school districts in an attempt to delay start times.