By Dr. Jan Hittelman

Q: I’ve read your columns encouraging a later start time for high schoolers, as well as health reports regarding teenagers’ sleep patterns. Do you think this is a serious enough concern that parents should be speaking out to BVSD about the matter? Maybe we should consider nourishing our children’s bodies not only through lunch-menu changes, but also time-schedule changes.
– Mom of a tired, stressed teen

A: The short answer is yes. As a community we should encourage school systems public and private to make the shift to a later start time for high school students. Most experts agree that elementary age children need about 10 – 11 hours of sleep. That high school youth need about 9½ hours. The challenge for adolescents is that their biological clock shifts to a later sleep/wake cycle, often making it difficult for them to get to sleep before 11:00pm. Given that the typical high school day can start as early as 7:30am, it can be an impossible task for teens to get enough sleep. Locally, a recent study asked Boulder County high school students if they had gotten enough sleep in the last week. Locally, ninety-two percent of Boulder County high school students surveyed responded that they did not “get enough sleep to feel rested in the morning seven out of the seven days preceding the survey” (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2005).

The main challenges for schools are shifts in busing and after school sports schedules. In addition there may be parents and faculty opposed to a schedule change in terms of their own work schedules. The benefits, however, far outweigh the challenges. Since originally writing about this issue, more and more research has emerged confirming the seriousness of our teens being sleep deprived. For example: “Our findings confirm that on school days, adolescents are obtaining less sleep then they are considered to need, and school start time is the factor with the greatest impact,” write the authors of an article published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.