To the Editor — Healthy Youth Survey shows kids not getting enough sleep

December 4, 2015

By Contributor

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The Issaquah School District is seriously studying school start times, acknowledging that many people in our district want this change. In your Oct. 30 article, Superintendent Ron Thiele commented that the student population’s possible need for sleep can’t be the only consideration. There is overwhelming data from our own Healthy Youth Survey that the vast majority of our teenagers are not getting enough sleep. The 2014 HYS shows that 58 percent of eighth graders, 80 percent of 10th graders and 84 percent of 12th graders in the Issaquah School District report sleeping less than eight hours on an average school night. Given that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Sleep Foundation have stated that teens should get between eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, it seems to me that our adolescent student population definitely needs more sleep than they are currently getting.

Why don’t teens just go to bed earlier? Most adolescents undergo a sleep phase delay, a biological tendency toward later times for falling asleep and waking up. You might ask, if school started later, wouldn’t students just go to bed later? Landmark research of over 9,000 students shows the students with later start times sleep longer.

A change in school times will impact family schedules, after-school activity schedules, and yes, traffic. The good news is that many school districts around the country have made these changes; although it may take a little while for people to adjust to the new schedule, it has worked well, students are happier and healthier, and there are lower teen car crash rates.

It is important to engage the community in a discussion, provide information regarding the science driving the change, and find out how the change will impact people’s routine in order to attempt to minimize disruption. However, the decision should not be poll-driven; the decision should be about setting a policy that allows most students to get enough sleep — a necessity, not a luxury.

Dea Eisner Barnett, M.D.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist

Chapter leader of Start School Later Issaquah

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