Would you support a later school start time for your teen?

Woman in bed with alarm clock
Credit: Seasontime/Shutterstock 

Where I live, high school students catch the bus well before 7 a.m. It's crazy! I'm literally terrified of when my kids are older. Will we have to get up at like, 5 a.m. every day? How will they possibly be able to get enough sleep when activities and homework will no doubt keep them up until late?

Of course, we know teens aren't getting enough sleep. Although the National Sleep Foundation says kids older than 12 need between 8 and 10 hours per night, a sleep survey found almost half of kids that age get less than 8 hours. We also know how much adequate sleep benefits kids' overall well-being and chances of achieving academic success. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged schools to adopt a later start time of after 8:30 a.m. to encourage teens to get enough sleep.

All of that said, a new study out of the University of Michigan and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found half of parents do not support a later school-starting time. Researchers looked at a U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital Poll on Children's Health in which 554 parents whose teens start school before 8:30 a.m. were asked questions about their sleep habits.

"We found that parents underestimated how much sleep their children needed, and only about half agreed with existing recommendations that school start times should be later," commented the study's lead researcher Galit Dunietz, Ph.D., MPH, at Michigan Medicine. She added that many parents in the survey believed 7 hours of sleep was adequate for their teens.

But the time at which teens' bodies are telling them to go to bed and wake up may be a big part of the problem. "If their bodies don't tell them they're tired until 11 p.m. or later and then, they have to be at school before 7:30 a.m., many of these teens experience a chronic sleep debt," Dunietz said.

Senior study author and neurologist Ronald Chervin, M.D., M.S., director of the U-M Sleep Disorders Center added, "Many teens would do fine if they could go to bed late and sleep late in the morning."

Still, only 51 percent of parents polled were in favor of later school start times, citing anxiety over how to fit in after-school activities and having to change meal times among their reservations.

But the stakes are high for teens who aren't getting enough sleep. Consider how exhaustion can affect their ability to concentrate behind the wheel of a car, and effectively cope with the many problems facing today's youth, from bullying to the temptation to use drugs and alcohol. Nevermind school performance!

The takeaway: Dunietz thinks we should continue to push for later school-start times. "There's evidence that it's a win-win for everyone," she said, adding, "We cannot change teens' biology to have them sleep earlier, so we should push the school start times back, in line with recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics."

What is your take?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger/mom. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.