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Later High School Start Times Can’t Come Too Soon

sleep deprived teen drivingEighty percent of the Northshore School District parents and staff surveyed last November supported a later start time for high school.

The Northshore School Board responded by passing Resolution 714 directing a high school start time no earlier than
8:00 am to be implemented by the 2017-2018 school year.   This is great news for the graduating class of 2020.  But is sleep deprivation putting your teen at risk now?

“Lack of sleep can be fatal,” states Dr. Judith A. Owens, lead researcher on the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement School Start Times for Adolescents. “The level of impairment associated with sleep-deprived driving is equivalent to driving drunk. Would you let a kid drive who just consumed three or four beers? Well, guess what – kids do that every day.”

In addition to early morning school start times, teens often have late evening sports practices, jobs, and non-stop electronics.  Add to that a teen’s sleep-wake cycle can shift as much as two hours later simply due to biological changes during puberty.  What can be done to help?

According to Preetam Bandla, M.D., Clinical Director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at Swedish Medical Group, strategies for promoting quality sleep are somewhat universal.  However, Dr. Bandla acknowledges adapting strategies to fit a teen’s reality can be more important than adhering to strict guidelines.   He recommends teens try the following:

Teen Friendly Tips to Promote Quality Sleep

  • Be device free 30-45 minutes prior to going to sleep
  • Put devices away, ideally out of the room, but at least not by the bed
  • Use a standard alarm clock to wake you, not your phone
  • Try not to study on the bed, ideally use the bed only for sleeping
  • Have a pre-sleep routine, you want to create a repeated pattern your body will learn to associate with going to sleep
  • Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Get regular exercise, but try to avoid exercising at least two hours prior to bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Avoid naps
  • Get out of bed the same time every morning, no matter how many hours you’ve slept
  • Get up by 9:00 am on the weekends.  Trying to make-up for lost sleep on the weekends can cause further problems – think perpetual jet-lag

Hopefully your teen’s high school has already heeded the medical community’s outcry for later high school start times.  If not, write a letter to your local school board and share this information with your teen and their friends.

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