Back to school may mean back to sleep deprivation

CREATED Aug 25, 2014

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Early high school start times may lead to chronic sleep deprivation for adolescents.

Dr. Ruth Benca, the medical director at the Wisconsin Sleep Clinic, said teenagers are natural night owls, and forcing them to wake up early every day disrupts their biological clocks.
“If we start school times early, it’s often very difficult to get them to go to sleep early enough to get sufficient sleep,” Benca said. “And therefore we’re waking them up, sometimes hours before they’re ready to get up. We’re creating a situation of chronic sleep deprivation.”
She said many factors influence how educators decide when to begin classes, including their own sleep preferences and convenience for working parents.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should ideally sleep for just over nine hours per night, but they average less than seven hours by the end of high school. Benca said insufficient sleep deprives adolescents of much more than a perfect Circadian rhythm.
“First and foremost is that it’s probably going to impact how well they do in school, how well they interact with others, and their general sense of well-being,” she said. “But the other thing we’re learning is that sleep is critically important for brain development.”
She said sleep deprivation, particularly during times of crucial brain development, may have lifelong effects on brain function, susceptibility to mood disorders, and other neuropsychiatric problems.
It may be difficult for teenagers to switch from summer to school schedules, but Benca recommended students put away their electronic gadgets before bedtime to fall asleep earlier. Parents can also use a timer that shuts off and turns on their Internet routers at a certain time.