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Sleep-Deprived Teenagers: Would Later Start Times Help?

Would teenagers do better on a different schedule? A recent Education Week article says that most experts think later school start times would increase adolescents’ academic performance and health.

Many teenagers get less than seven hours of sleep per night when nine is optimal for their cognitive development and physical and emotional health. A later start time might mean more students would get the sleep they need.

Sleep changes in adolescents is “kind of a perfect-storm scenario,” said Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, with many factors “basically conspiring to increase the risks of insufficient sleep in this population.”

As adolescents hit puberty, their natural sleep-wake cycles begin to shift such that they are unable to fall asleep as early as they did when they were in elementary school. Hence, it’s normal for teenagers to be awake until about 11 p.m., according to Dr. Owens.

Many districts that have discussed later start times have found that communities aren’t willing to make the necessary changes for a new schedule to work. Some sports programs and other extracurricular activities can’t easily accommodate later hours.

What are your thoughts? Would a later start time be beneficial to adolescents and worth the trade-offs?

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