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School Start Times and the Impact on Teen Mental Health

Starting school later can provide teenagers a chance to obtain essential sleep, which can contribute to better physical and mental health as well as improvements in attendance, academic performance and graduation rates.

That is the conclusion reached by a virtual research summit held at Standford University and hosted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine on Jan. 18. The event included participants from a wide range of academic backgrounds.

The purpose of this research was to support positions statements from the National Sleep Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Sleep, and dozens of other respected scientific, health and education organizations recommending that middle and high school start later than the time established. And of course, bell changes affect transportation services.

According to “Sleep Health,” the journal of the National Sleep Foundation, the outcomes of this research state that starting school later improves teen physical and mental health, safety and school performance.

“When school clocks align with student body clocks, students perform better academically,” said Stanford’s Dr. Raphael Pelayo, who participated in a summary and panel discussion of the Summit on Teen Sleep and School Start webinar and hosted the award-winning sleep education program Sleep 101. Other speakers that participated were Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., and Joy Wake.

California law starting this summer will require most high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m.

With substantial scientific evidence regarding adolescent sleep needs and timing, California passed and signed into law SB328, the first U.S. statewide legislation explicitly designed to protect adolescent sleep health.

The CDC also recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. According to an earlier CDC study conducted throughout the 2011-2012 school year, 42 states reported that most public middle and high schools started before 8:30 a.m. That study has yet to be updated.

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