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Why more sleep could help kids do better in school and life

Early school start times make kids feel jetlagged every day, says behavioral and social scientist Wendy Troxel. She shares her humble opinion on why it’s time to change kids’ morning routines.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For all the parents of teenagers who have wondered about their sons and daughters being cranky and moody, there may be a partial remedy afoot.

    Social scientist Wendy Troxel believes at least some of the explanation has to do with how early many teens have to get up in the morning to go to school.

    Here's her Humble Opinion on why it's time to consider a change.

  • Wendy Troxel:

    Like many parents, each weekday morning, I have the unpleasant task of dragging my sleeping teenager out of bed at 6:00 a.m.

    For me, this daily battle is a particularly tough pill to swallow, because I'm a sleep researcher, so I know too much about the consequences of sleep loss to be doing this to my own son.

    My kid isn't the only one. A whopping 90 percent of teens fail to get the nine to 10 hours of sleep per night that they need to function at their best.

    When teens don't get the sleep they need, their brains, bodies, and behavior suffer. Around the time of puberty, kids experience a delay in their biological clock. That means that teenagers are hormonally programmed to stay awake later and sleep in later.

    And yet most U.S. middle and high schools start at 8:00 a.m. or earlier, forcing teens out of bed hours before their biological clocks tell them they're ready.

    It's kind of like everyday jet lag. Not surprisingly, one in five teens regularly falls asleep in class. And sleep-deprived teens suffer academically.

    But the consequences of teen sleep loss go well beyond the classroom, contributing to many of the mental health problems that skyrocket in adolescents, like depression, substance use and even suicide.

    As parents, there are several things we can do to support healthy sleep in our kids, like encouraging consistent bed times and getting technology out of the bedroom.

    But these changes at home can only do so much. The real solution is for middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Of course, there are logistical challenges of changing school start times, like updating bus routes or the impact on child care or sports.

    But these are problems to be solved, especially when you consider the benefits of later start times. Studies have shown that when schools start later, kids get more sleep, they're more likely to show up for school on time, ready to learn, and more likely to graduate.

    Their mental and physical health improves. And even their communities are safer because car crash rates go down.

    And as if those benefits weren't enough, we have found that delaying start times could give a boost to the U.S. economy by increasing students' academic performance and potential lifetime earnings.

    So, Monday morning, when it's time yet again to rouse your sleeping darlings, think about the tremendous power of sleep and think about what a gift it would be to allow your children to wake up more in synch with their own biology.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wendy Troxel.

    A lot of people would cheer that on.

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