Let our kids get enough sleep

August 26, 2014 12:00
Many students are deprived of enough sleep because school time starts too early. Photo: SSP Westmont

What's the use of going to school if students just sleep in class?

Waking up too early to get to school is bad for a teenager's health, according to medical experts, because it disrupts their natural biological rhythm. Their bodies are still developing, and they need enough sleep to grow into healthy, normal adults.

Teens find it hard to fall asleep before 11 p.m., so the American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's largest organization of doctors for children, is calling on secondary schools to push back the first bell by an hour or more to at least 8:30 a.m., Bloomberg News reports. In fact, we think 8:30 a.m. is still too early for the first session.

We all know the ill effects of lack of sleep on students. Their academic performance suffers because they find it hard to concentrate and absorb the day's lessons. They often load up on caffeine and energy drinks, but studies have shown that too much of these substances could expose them to a wide range of health problems including insomnia and heart disease. Sleep deprivation also makes them prone to road accidents, while others face health issues such such weight gain and depression.

“When high school classes begin early in the morning, we ask teens to shine when their biological clock tells them to sleep,” says Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Many do not get adequate sleep as a result. Smarter school start times, that are more consistent with sleep needs, will improve students’ safety, overall health, mood and academic performance.”

And it's not just the school schedule that deprives many students of enough sleep. There are so many other distractions -- from social media to parties and other extracurricular activites -- that further reduce their time for rest.

Some parents say that kids should get to bed early, but it doesn't work that way. Dr. Marcel Deray, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Miami Children's Hospital, notes that the body's natural sleep-wake cycle changes around puberty, making it hard for teeners to fall asleep earlier than 11 p.m.

"Teenagers' bodies release melatonin later than [adults'] do," WebMD News quoted Deray as saying. He is referring to the hormone the brain secretes in the evening to induce drowsiness.

According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, just 41 percent of students from sixth grade get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep at night. As they reach high school, things get worse -- only 13 percent get the amount of rest they need, the poll found.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common, and easily fixable, public health issues in the US today,” says Judith Owens, a pediatrician and the lead author of the policy recommendation. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

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