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Pediatricians cite value of added adolescent sleep

To the editor:

This week the Northampton School Committee may make a decision on a later high school starting time. This decision will probably have some impact on all students, parents and teachers from the elementary level through the high school.

We are not writing to tell the school panel how it should vote. Rather we are writing as pediatricians who have studied this issue, take care of many of these students and would like to help sort out the medical literature on this topic.

Several studies have looked at the physical and psychological effects a later start time would have on high schoolers and their sleep habits. A number of these studies have shown, first and foremost, that later start times result in adolescents gaining more hours of sleep for reasons rooted soundly in the biology of changes in circadian rhythm which occur during the rapid growth period teenagers experience. Because this has to do with biochemical differences between adolescents and adults, these changes in sleep patterns are seen over multiple cultures and could not be said to result from influences in current American culture such as TV, video games or cell phones.

Studies have also shown that later school openings resulted in improved attentiveness in class, less tardiness and improved mood. Furthermore, other studies looking at adolescent sleep have shown that more sleep results in improved academic and athletic performance.

The School Committee’s decision is a difficult one because of how much a delayed opening can influence everyone’s schedule. However, when measuring the pros and cons of such a change, the board needs to know the facts and what the medical literature clearly shows.

The facts do support the claims that later high school opening times help teenagers in multiple ways.

Jonathan Schwab, M.D.

Peter Kenny, M.D.

Northampton

Legacy Comments1

Support from the health community is essential to resolving this issue in Northampton and in many school systems around the country. Once communities understand that sleep and health school hours are matters of public health - and not negotiable budget items -they will have no choice but to start school at later, healthier, and, frankly, more traditional hours. However, it may take collective action on a national scale to make this happen. For more information or to be part of the change, see www.StartSchoolLater.net.

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