Starting school too early could be dangerous for teens, even if they do everything right.
No coffee after 6 p.m. Phone is off at 8 p.m. Asleep by 11 p.m. And your teenager is still exhausted, anxious, and irritable the next day?
If they start school at the crack of dawn, that bad attitude might be more than just adolescent moodiness.
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A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that middle and high school students who start school before 8:30 a.m. might be at a higher risk of depression and anxiety — even among those who do everything else "right."
"While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens," lead author Jack Peltz, clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Rochester, said in a press release.
The researchers monitored the sleep hygiene habits, sleep quality and duration, and depression and anxiety symptoms of two groups of students — one made up of those who started school before 8:30 a.m. and one comprised of those who started later — over a seven-day period.
While students who instituted good routines — turning off electronics, early bedtimes, etc. — showed improved outcomes across the board, those who started school earlier still reported more mental health challenges.
A 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fewer than 1 in 5 U.S. middle and high school students start school at 8:30 a.m. or later.
Historically, districts have implemented early morning start times in order to align student schedules with parent work schedules and allot time for after-school activities.
While other recent studies have found that an 8:30 a.m.-or-later bell can benefit students, the Rochester study is among the first to isolate a direct negative link between early start times and adolescent mental health.
Meanwhile, the movement to let kids sleep is small, but growing.
In 2016, the American Medical Association came out in favor of later school start times, citing data that middle and high school students require 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep to "achieve optimal health and learning."
Photo by Robyn Beck/Getty Images.
In February, a bill was introduced in the California State Senate that would institute an 8:30 a.m. school start time statewide. The bill was shelved after falling short of the votes needed for passage, with opponents arguing that a "one-size-fits-all" approach would constrain the flexibility of local districts.
Supporters plan to revisit the legislation next year.
Despite the findings, Peltz insists that good sleep hygiene is still important for young people.
"At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival," he said. "But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be."
The next step is getting school administrators to weigh the evidence.
Convincing school districts across America to start later can't be harder than convincing a teenager to shut off their phone, right?