Despite Sleep Benefits To Teens, Only Half of Parents Support Later School Start Times Interview with:

Galit Dunietz, Ph.D., MPH Doctor of Philosophy Department of Neurology University of Michigan  Ann Arbor MI

Dr. Dunietz

Galit Dunietz, Ph.D., MPH
Epidemiologist, Sleep Disorders Center
Department of Neurology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor MI What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Insufficient sleep has a negative impact on health, cognition and mood and is linked to motor vehicle accidents. However, sleep loss in adolescents has become an epidemic and arises in part from biological processes that delay sleep and wake timing at the onset of puberty. This biology does not fit well with early school start times (before 8:30 a.m.). Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to delay school start times, most schools in the U.S. have current start times before 8:30 a.m.

In this nationally representative study of US parents of teens, we examined whether parents supported or opposed later school start times (after 8:30 a.m.). We also examined what may have influenced their opinions.

We found that only about half of surveyed parents of teens with early school start times supported later school start times. Opinions appeared to depend in part on what challenges and benefits were expected to result from the change.

For example, parents who expected an improvement in their teen’s academic performance or sleep quantity tended to support the change, whereas parents that expected negative impact on afterschool activities or transportation opposed delays in school start times.  We also found that parents had misconception about sleep needs of their adolescents, as the majority perceived 7-7.5 hours of sleep as sufficient, or possibly sufficient even at this young age when 8-10 hours are typically recommended. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Sufficient sleep is critical throughout the lifespan. Teens generally need to sleep at least 8 hours per night to maintain optimal health, cognition and behavior. Most teens are chronically sleep deprived, because of the mismatch between their biological sleep needs and school start times.  As sleep biology cannot be changed, school district administrators should consider delaying high school start times. Parent support for these changes may increase with education about the health and cognitive benefits of sufficient sleep for teenagers. Education about the positive impact that later school start times have had in other school systems may also help, as might data from these communities to suggest that after-school activities or transportation challenges can be addressed, in practice, more easily than anticipated. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Additional studies of perceived barriers for parents, teachers, and administrators, along with solutions that have worked well in communities that have already shifted to later school start times, could help sway opinion and foster healthier schedules. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Delaying high school start times is likely to have direct benefit for the health and safety of teens, in addition to positive outcomes for school teachers, administrators and athletic coaches. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Citation: Galit Levi Dunietz, Amilcar Matos-Moreno, Dianne C. Singer, Matthew M. Davis, Louise M. O’Brien, Ronald D. Chervin
Later School Start Times: What Informs Parent Support or Opposition?
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2017; 13 (07): 889 DOI: 10.5664/jcsm.6660

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions. 

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Last Updated on August 22, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD