Kids aren't getting enough sleep, and it's a big problem. But there's a simple solution.
Last year, the American Association of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for school start times.
Sleep is the only activity you do by pretending you're already doing it.
Think about it. Weird, right? Anyway, sleep is also really important. Without sleep, you'd be, well, uh, not living. So, for the sake of your mental and physical health, emotional well-being, and existence, it's important to make sure you're getting enough of it.
Most of us aspire to get enough sleep (but don't). And if we're lucky, we can control our schedules, avoid nicotine, and avoid caffeine. Sleep-related problems and habits, however, can be a learned condition over time. For this and other reasons, it's time we had a little chat about how to break those habits early in life.
Kids aren't getting enough sleep. This is actually a big problem.
The National Sleep Foundation (yes, this is a thing that exists; no, I hadn't heard of it, either) found that 87% of U.S. high schoolers were getting less than the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep on weeknights. The numbers weren't much better for junior high students.
What's the big deal? Well, chronic sleep loss has some nasty effects, especially on adolescents. For example, it's been know to lead to lower test scores, decreased ability to concentrate, shorter attention spans, and less ability to retain information. And, given that succeeding at school requires pretty much the polar opposite of those symptoms, we should probably try to figure out how to make sure kids get the sleep they need.
Some schools have a really simple, obvious solution: Start classes later.
A few school districts here and there have bumped back start times in recent years for the sake of students' zzz's, but the Seattle School Board just became one of the largest districts in the country to push start times later than 8:30 a.m.
"The proposal to change bell times is the result of a research-based community initiative," the district's teachers union told the Seattle Times. "It will improve learning, health and equity for thousands of Seattle students."
But wait, won't students just stay up later at night? Actually, no!
That was another fascinating aspect of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation — simply trying to get kids to go to bed earlier so they can wake up for earlier classes doesn't actually solve the sleep problem.
What they found was that in schools that bumped start times back, students didn't tend to stay up any later. This is because part of the reason teenagers stay up later than pre-adolescents is their changing biology, not simply some rebellious choice to stay up.
This all sounds great, right? So why aren't more schools doing it?
While the American Association of Pediatrics has put out its recommendation, it's up to individual states and individual school districts to actually implement it.
Earlier this year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced the "ZZZ's to A's Act" in Congress. The bill would direct the Department of Education to study the effects of later start times in schools and issue findings and recommendations to Congress for potential action.
"Students across the United States are not getting enough sleep at night — this affects not just their academic performance, but their health, safety, and well-being," said Rep. Lofgren in a press release. "We know that as kids become teens their biology keeps them from getting to sleep early, makes it harder for them to wake up early in the morning, and necessitates additional sleep at night."
Unfortunately, the bill — the first variation of which was introduced way back in 1998 — is stuck in Congress. Still, it's good to know there are legislators looking to improve the school experience for students across the country.
While it doesn't look like a national solution is coming anytime soon, there are things you can do.
Try going to your local school board meetings and ask that they consider the American Association of Pediatrics recommendations. Who knows? Maybe your district will follow Seattle's lead!