As parents and medical professionals we are disappointed the Rochester Public School Board has not enacted delayed school start times for adolescents. One of the “silver linings” of the recent distance learning environment was our children’s endorsement of adequate sleep and our own observations of positive behavioral changes that resulted from later rise times. The prospect of returning to a school environment conducive to chronic sleep deprivation is disheartening.

Data on the positive effects of delaying school start time for adolescents was presented to the board in December 2019. Disappointingly, this topic was tabled in February 2020. Changing the elementary school start time to earlier (exchanging the elementary and high school start times) in other districts has not demonstrated a negative impact on the sleep of the younger children.

The health of our community and its children has never been more important. With significant patience and flexibility already required of families during this pandemic, it is our opinion that this is an optimal time for the school board to consider prioritizing the sleep and well-being of adolescents by delaying their school start times.

The impact of school start times has been well documented by scientific data and supported by many medical organizations. Based on this data, it is unsurprising that virtually all relevant health and medical organizations have issued policy statements endorsing a school start time no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for adolescents (or “for middle- and high-school”).

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued their position in September 2014 and recommended school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for middle school and high school students. This has been endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, AMA, CDC, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in addition to many other renowned groups.

  • National Youth Risk Behavior Survey data revealed that a minimum of 8 hours of sleep is a tipping point for at-risk behaviors in teenagers.

  • Adolescents have been designated as a “high risk” group for problematic sleepiness by the National Institutes of Health.

  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System show that nearly 70% of adolescents receive less than 8 hours of sleep on school nights, and less than 8% achieve optimal sleep duration of 9 hours or more. More than 25% of adolescents report a typical sleep time of 6.5 hours or less.

  • A separate CDC study showed that the percentage of students sleeping at least 8 hours nightly was more likely to take place with later school start times.

    • This same study collected motor vehicle accident data and showed that the number of car crashes among the 5 districts that changed to a later start time decreased by 13%, with the greatest reduction seen in the first year of the change in the district with the latest start time of 8:55 a.m.

    • Data also revealed statistically significant increases in grade point average among those with a later start time.

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The state of Minnesota (particularly the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area) is recognized as a pioneer in initial recognition of the harmful effects of early school start times among adolescents, and now serves as a model of successful implementation of later start times with systematic follow-up studies. We feel that it would be very unfortunate if the School Board chose not to implement changes based upon known health and performance outcomes.

R. Robert Auger, Julie M. Baughn, Robin M. Lloyd, Aleksey Matveyenko, David J. Sas

The authors of this column are physicians and scientists at the Mayo Medical Center in Rochester, and are also parents of adolescents. The views expressed are the authors’ personal views, and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Mayo Clinic.