Who knew that there are state governments that sympathise with sleep-deprived teenagers – even going so far as to do something about it? Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, as so far there is only one state government that has taken action and predictably, namely California, ever in the vanguard regarding the welfare of its citizens.
According to the Washington Post, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Sunday, October 13th that will, over three years, phase in a change in start times so middle schools cannot begin earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8.30 a.m. (with some rural schools exempt).
Currently, middle and high schools in the US have an average start time of around 8 a.m., so the new school start times are not very different. But nevertheless, for an exhausted 14-year-old, an extra half-hour’s sleep can mean they are just that bit more alert and able to cope with the school day.
Critics of the legislation say that inevitably there will be parents unable to adjust work schedules and that there will be consequences for after-school activities. But all in all, the legislation is a good move from the point of view of high school students.
What has moved California’s government to take pity on teenagers to the extent of bringing in this new law? The fact is there is now a great deal of research on teenage sleeping habits. Newsom quoted recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, saying, “The science shows that teenage students who start the day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health.”
Sleep experts say teens have unique biological sleep patterns that make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and they need eight to ten hours of sleep each night to function at their best.
The CDC’s Youth Risk Behaviour Survey in 2017 showed that nearly 75% of US high school students were getting less than eight hours of sleep on school nights. As a result, many miss breakfast and fall asleep at their desks during the school day. We have all been teenagers and may have memories of getting to sleep late and dragging ourselves to school in the morning only half-awake, hungry because we have missed breakfast.
Experts say lack of sleep increases the risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and motor vehicle accidents among teens. Research shows students who get enough sleep are less likely to be late and absent from school, and more likely to be alert and get better grades, according to the Washington Post. Yes, the legislation does seem a good move, and other US states will be watching closely to see whether the change in school hours affects students’ academic performance and welfare for the better.
Of course, it is not just teenagers who get less sleep than they need. What about adults? According to the US National Sleep Foundation (NSF), large numbers of adults sleep less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep for people over age 64 and seven to nine hours for ages 18 to 64. The foundation describes this as “worrisome,” as sleeping less than the recommendations means you are more likely to be obese and are more prone to diabetes and heart disease. Lack of sleep can shorten your life, too. Oh yes, and then there is Alzheimer’s disease. The Sleep Foundation has stated that research has shown that during sleep, waste material is flushed out of our brains, including proteins involved in Alzheimer’s. And who wants any of these nasty illnesses? Get more sleep, folks!