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To combat sleep deprivation in students, researchers advocate later school start

As schools around the country prepare to welcome back students this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that that middle and high schools abandon the usual 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. start times.

In a policy statement released Monday, lead author and pediatrician Judith Owens said “chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today.”

According to researchers, the lack of sleep among young students is becoming an issue that is negatively affecting their mental and physiological health.

With after-school responsibilities that include homework, sports and academic clubs, it becomes increasingly difficult for students to fall asleep before 11 a.m. The AAP has suggested that most students should get 8.5 to 9.5 of sleep, which would mean that start times would need to be 8:30 a.m. or later.

According to the report, 40 percent of U.S. high schools have a start time before 8 a.m., while more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.

Studies documented by the National Sleep Foundation have found that students are not receiving the proper amount of sleep that would ensure an adequate academic result. They have cited that “59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students were getting less than the recommended sleep on school nights.”

The risks of sleep deprivation has become a significant public health problem. A lack of sleep for teens and adolescents has been linked to issues concerning the ability to learn, skin problems and even erratic and or inappropriate behavior. Owens explained: “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less to involved in automobile accidents, have better grades and higher standardized test scores.”

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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