By John Garcia, M.D., pediatric sleep specialist

In a new report released last Thursday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged that the majority of U.S. middle and high schools start too early for students to get sufficient sleep.  In these findings, the CDC has sent a clear message to middle and high schools.  The indisputable tide of scientific support is relentlessly shifting the burden from individual teens to societal policy. 

The Mounting Evidence for Later School Start TimesIn the past, teens were blamed for their own sleepiness.  It is clear that teen sleepiness, rather than being a character issue, is caused by school start times that do not fit the adolescent biologic clock. Nationwide, fewer than 20 percent of middle and high schools start at the recommended 8:30 AM start time.  The same is true in Minnesota.  Here in Saint Paul, extended conversations with Saint Paul Public School administrators on this issue in 2014 led only to delayed decision-making.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said clearly, a decision delayed is a decision denied.

Some of the objections have come from those promoting after school sports and employment.  But the change from a 7:30 AM to an 8:30 AM start time has clearly been shown by Kyla Wahlstrom, PhD, University of Minnesota College of Education, to decrease teen suicide, improve grades by a whole letter grade, and decrease teen automobile accidents.  These three issues—of concern to any parent of teens—clearly outweigh the concerns of after school sports and employment. 

Other concerns, including increased busing costs, have not proven to be valid issues in other school districts. Concerns regarding younger children waiting at early morning bus stops can be addressed as they were in Edina without derailing the conversation.  As both a physician and parent, I remain hopeful that data from the CDC and others will encourage a growing number of middle and high schools to embrace 8:30 AM start times.  It’s in the best interest of our kids—and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

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