Valerie Crabtree, Ph.D., is a mom of high schoolers, the Chief of Psychosocial Services at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and an advocate for later high school start times. Earlier this year she gave a TEDx talk on the topic of the importance of sleep for teens, why they sleep at different times than adults do, what happens when they don’t get enough, and what happens when schools start at different times in the morning.
It’s worth 15 minutes of your time:
I found her arguments to be very compelling. I particularly loved when she said “we are forcing them to have worse functioning than they otherwise would.” And the concerns about the lack of sleep on mental health, including suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, should grab our attention.
And it’s not just teens that will benefit. The community benefits are significant, too, and I find the public safety aspect of sleepy teen drivers especially compelling. Studies have shown that communities with later start times have lower rates of car accidents involving teens. Safer roads are a benefit for all of us.
The anecdotal evidence from schools around the country who have shifted to later school start times is also convincing.
Wondering how it went when Seattle Public Schools pushed back their high school start times a few years ago? This NPR article examines the impact, including better academic performance, attendance, and classroom engagement.
This piece published this weekend details similar positive changes with a schedule shift by the Kanawha County Schools.
This quote from the high school principal jumped out at me: “In the end it comes down to do we want to do the most convenient thing or what research bears is the right thing.”
Worried that teens will just stay up later if they can sleep later? Studies have not found that to be the case, per this article in Science Daily. In fact, students in Seattle are typically sleeping an additional 34 minutes per night. That may not sound like much, but it adds up. Over time, that extra sleep has a big positive impact on the developing adolescent brain.
As Dr. Crabtree says in her talk, it’s likely that school board members are aware of the research, but that’s not going to be enough to spark change. We all have to advocate. We need to share our stories as parents and community members. I emailed my school board members today. If you support later school start times, let your school board know, too, or join a local chapter of Start School Later. Our kids need us to speak up.
You May Also Like: How parents can help teens get enough sleep