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Editorial: Teens need more sleep

Teenagers like — and need — to sleep ... a lot.

That’s not exactly earth-shattering news to parents who may have seen their child head off to bed at a seemingly reasonable time on a Friday only to see them emerge sometime Saturday afternoon. But what many adults may not know is that just how big a public health issue teens and their sleep actually is.

Sleep-deprived teens may conjure up an amusing image but according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is a serious problem.

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” said Dr. Judith Owens, the lead author of AAP policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents.”

Part of the problem is that a teen’s natural sleep cycle begins shifting with the onset of puberty. Throw in other factors such as school work, extra-curricular activities, after-school jobs, technology and their social life, and it all adds up to too many of these kids not getting enough sleep.

How sleep deprived are they, on average? Well, a National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of sixth- through eighth-graders and 87 percent of high school students in the country were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

One of the answers, according to experts, is to start school later both for high and middle schools.

“By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.” Owens said.

Of course, the issue with implementing such a change is that it’s not just a teen’s clock that you’re changing. Such a change would have a wide-ranging impact on the logistics at school for extra-curricular activities such as sports, as well as morning and evening schedules at home ... not to mention the effect on teachers.

These issues alone may make such changes a tough sell.

It may mean figuring out a multi-pronged approach, one that includes getting teens to disconnect from their devices and less intake of caffeinated beverages, etc.

But we all need to wake up to what’s happening.

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