Doctors say schools should start later so kids can sleep longer
MISSISSAUGA – Pediatricians in the United States are asking high schools and middle schools to start later—to let kids sleep in.
More sleep in teens has been shown to improve academic grades, mental health and physical health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement recommending schools delay the start of class to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens. Owens is the lead author in the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.
The Canadian Peadiatric Society says it agrees with the research, but hasn’t specifically called for a later start to school.
“Adolescents need more sleep,” said pediatrician Dr. Stan Lipnowski. “Teenagers need between nine and 12 hours of sleep, on a regular basis. If this is one of the ways to guarantee kids get a better, more consistent sleep pattern, then I think it might be something we need to look at.”
The majority of high schools in Ontario start between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Seventeen of Peel’s 37 secondary schools have start times of 8:30 a.m. or later.
In the city of Toronto, there is one school that has a later start time. It started as a pilot project, but according to Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute Principal Jennifer Chan, “the early start time is here to stay.”
Classes at Eastern Collegiate start at 10 a.m. each day. A report released by the Toronto District School Board in 2011 looked at student results after the start time changed.
“Students showed a four to nine per cent improvement in academic credit accumulation for grades 9 and 10 following the later start to the school day,” said the report.
An improvement in English and science performance in grade 9 and 10 students as well as an improvement in the marks of grades 11 and 12 students in English and math were shown. Those improvements were found to be greater than at any other school within the Toronto board.
So why aren’t more schools following suit?
“It’s really about the economics of bussing,” said Peel Region School Board spokesperson Brian Woodland. “The research is pretty clear out there – that high school and middle school kids should start school at 8:30 or later, but…our bussing is based on ministry funding and the efficiency in it requires multiple bus runs by the same bus.”