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CDC: Start School Later, Teenagers Need More Sleep

Students could use more shut-eye. Courtesy: NASA
Students could use more shut-eye. Courtesy: NASA
August 17, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY - Getting more sleep will likely help middle and high school students in Utah and across the country do better in school, be healthier and make healthier choices, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Epidemiologist Anne Wheaton with the CDC says only one in six students in Utah gets the recommended amount of sleep - between eight-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half hours per night. She says sleep deprivation is linked to drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs as well as poor academic performance.

"If you haven't had enough sleep and you're sitting in the first period of school, you have a harder time paying attention," Wheaton says. "And your memory doesn't work quite as well, if you don't get enough sleep."

Wheaton says a major cause of the sleep problem is 83 percent of middle and high schools in Utah start school before 8:30 a.m., which does not give students enough time to get the recommended amount of sleep. She says puberty delays sleep, which means teenagers need more time to get going in the morning because their bodies are keeping them up later at night.

Wheaton points out the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement last year urging middle and high schools to modify start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to aid students in getting sufficient sleep to improve their overall health.

"Not getting enough sleep tends to affect your appetite so you eat more, you're more fatigued, so you're less likely to exercise," she says. "It can impact your blood sugar, so further down the road after years of not getting enough sleep, you're more likely to develop diabetes for instance."

There are other factors involved, but Wheaton says some school districts are resistant to later start times because they say it would increase costs for busing students. She says parents can also help their children practice good sleep habits by maintaining a consistent bedtime and rise time, including on weekends.

Deborah Courson Smith/Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT