The NJAAP Task Force on Adolescent Sleep and School Start Times is committed to promoting the physical and mental health and well-being of students and supports efforts to delay middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later in alignment with the National AAP Policy Statement, School Start Times for Adolescents. As your school district plans on reopening for in-person education the 2021-2022 school year, we urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to delay your middle school and high school start times. Even a small change can have a big impact and positive benefits and can lead to more permanent changes in the future.
Research has resoundingly and repeatedly supported that later start times lead to increased sleep for teenagers. Many families experienced this firsthand when their school schedules changed over the course of the past year due to the pandemic. With a schedule that more closely aligns with a teenager's inherent biological wake cycle, students experience multiple benefits from their increased sleep:
· Increased academic achievement
· Improved mental and physical health
· Enhanced athletic performance
· Reduction in automobile accidents
· Decrease in risk taking behaviors
· Reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression
This past decade has seen a tremendous rise in mental health issues and suicidal ideation and behavior in teenagers throughout the country. The global pandemic has only heightened the concern that this trend will increase even further. In a qualitative study conducted by Gruber et al. in spring 2020, 55% of participants described being sleepy during the school day before the pandemic and attributed this to their need to wake up early to get to school. Conversely, during the pandemic shutdown 78% reported that they were not sleepy due to the fact that they were getting more sleep.
This past year has demonstrated that school districts are capable of making rapid changes to adapt as needed to optimize student learning. As we return to in person learning, this is a great opportunity to pilot a later start time that will sustain improvements to student sleep hygiene and foster student mental health.
While piloting healthy school hours, it is important to observe and document the positive impacts increased sleep has on students’ readiness to engage in learning as well as the benefits for teachers. It is also important to survey students, teachers and parents to capture their thoughts on a later start time and its benefits. Questions might include topics such as:
- Asking students what their bedtime and wake times were
- Asking students to assess if they were getting more, less or the same amount of sleep as when they had in person and virtual school and if there were changes, to estimate the amount of change
- Asking students to rate on a scale of 1-10 how awake they felt during school
- Asking students if later start times had a positive, negative, or no impact on their physical and emotional health
- Asking parents to report on their perspective on the same questions asked to the students
- Asking teachers to reflect on the appearance, engagement and performance of students with shifting start times
- Asking teachers to reflect on their own experiences & thoughts on how a later start time impacts their remote teaching and home life
Teenagers are facing an increasingly complicated world. School leaders and parents have a responsibility to create policies that can create the best possible environments for these teenagers to learn, to grow and to be safe. We know the data supports the positive effects of delaying school start times for teenagers. This pandemic has shown us that we can find a way to make huge changes in a short period. We urge you to keep sleep and school start times at the forefront of your discussions as you consider the future of education in your district.
Our Task Force is available as a resource for school districts and community changemakers interested in shifting school start times. You can reach us by emailing email@example.com or calling 609-842-0014.
Bert Mandelbaum, MD, FAAP, Princeton Nassau Pediatrics
Chair, The Task Force on Adolescent Sleep and School Start Times