Can a late school starting time help prevent depression and accidents?

Can a late school starting time help prevent depression and accidents?

Sleep is important to one’s well-being, especially for growing children. Its inadequacy can affect both their physical and mental health. Moreover, sleepiness and irregular sleep schedules may lead to unpleasant consequences, including negative impact on a child’s learning, memory and performance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two in three high school students fail to get sufficient sleep, a pattern consistent since 2007, and less than one in five middle and high schools in the U.S. start the day before the recommended start time of 8:30 a.m. In the light of the view that school going teenagers are sleep deprived due to early school hours, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has urged middle and high school students to begin their proceedings from 8:30 a.m. or later. The suggestion is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well considering that start time policies in the country are not determined at the federal or state level but driven at the individual or district level.

Early to school may not make one wise

The researchers at CDC and U.S. Department of Education had reviewed data from the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey, which involved around 40,000 public middle, high, and combined schools. It was found that schools that started before 8:30 a.m. did not let their kids enjoy the much-needed sleep of 8.5 to 9.5 hours. The insufficient sleep, in turn, was found to be associated with many health problems, such as drinking alcohol, being overweight, smoking and drug use, along with poor academic performance.

Referring to the hazards related to early school timing highlighted by previous studies, AASM advocated for allowing adolescents ample time to have sufficient sleep on school nights. This would help them have daytime alertness, overcome tardiness and better school attendance. Moreover, a later school start time can help students perform better in academics, enjoy improved mental health, exhibit increased driving safety and get more opportunities for learning.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson, the lead author and the past President of AASM, said, “Early school start times make it difficult for adolescents to get sufficient sleep on school nights, and chronic sleep loss among teens is associated with a host of problems, including poor school performance, increased depressive symptoms, and motor vehicle accidents. Starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later gives teens a better opportunity to get the sufficient sleep they need to learn and function at their highest level.”

The AASM also recommends that teenagers aged 13 to 18 years should at least enjoy a regular sleep of eight to 10 hours for optimal physical and mental health. Inadequate sleep in the age group may lead to consequences including increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, which account for around 73 percent of unintentional injuries and 35 percent of all deaths in teenagers, according to statistics published in AASM.

Benefits of delaying the start time of the school

According to AASM, a delay in the start times of schools may have many benefits, some of which have been listed below:

  • Decreased daytime sleepiness
  • Longer total sleep time
  • Better engagement in class activities
  • Lesser irritability
  • Reduction in first-hour tardiness and absences
  • Improved reaction time

The society advises students to refrain from using Internet and smartphones during bedtime as they interfere with sound sleep. It also urges primary academic institutions, school administrations, parents and family, and other stakeholders to promote a national standard of middle school and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. It will help ensure that the students wake up to a more exciting, more energetic and academically fulfilling day.

Dealing with depression

Creating awareness and education about mental health problems can be an effective step in dealing with depression. Schools should also have in-campus facility for mental health counseling and a platform that encourages students to speak about their problems. It is equally essential to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and be more supportive to those in need.

The Depression Treatment Helpline offers a helping hand by providing vital information on evidence-based depression help centers. You can chat online or call the 24/7 helpline 866-619-7729 to know more about residential programs for depression in your vicinity.

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