Later School Start Times Linked to Decreased Teen Car Crashes
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends middle schools and high schools start their classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
A new study has found that the car crash rate for 16 to 18-year-old licensed drivers decreased significantly if they went to schools that started later in the morning.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, compared teen driving crash rates in Fairfax County, Virginia, for two years before and after later start times were implemented, reports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). The rate of vehicle crashes in teens dropped from 31.63 to 29.59 accidents per 1,000 drivers after the delayed start time. The push-back of school start times was also associated with fewer distraction-related incidents.
The teen car crash rate remained the same, however, for other parts of the state where the schools didn’t implement later start times.
In 2015, Fairfax County changed its school start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m.
Sleep experts say the lack of enough shut-eye has damaging effects on children, particularly teenagers.
A study released in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control found that 70% of high school students were not getting the recommended hours of sleep on school nights. Students who reported insufficient sleep were more likely to engage in health-risk behaviors, such as marijuana use, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and suicidal thoughts.
Another study by researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School raised the possibility that poor sleep can attribute to bullying or aggressive behaviors in children.
Many school districts are adopting later start times for classes. In 2018, Boston Public Schools made the change. Last fall, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that mandates most public schools have later start times. Middle schools will be prohibited from starting before 8 a.m. and high schools will be prohibited from starting before 8:30 a.m.
Teens generally need more shut-eye and have very different sleeping patterns than adults or children. They need eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. Additionally, teens go to sleep later because the secretion of melatonin in their brains is delayed, which causes them to fall asleep later, according to research that appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
AASM recommends middle schools and high schools start classes at 8:30 a.m. or later. The benefits of later start times include:
- Teens will get enough sleep on school nights
- Students will be more alert during class
- Reduced tardiness and absences
- Improved student mental health and psychological well-being
- Teen driving safety will improve
“When schools start too early, students are being asked to wake up and function at a time when their circadian rhythm is telling them to stay asleep,” said senior study author Dr. Judith Owens, MPH, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Changing school start times not only allows students to get more sleep but allows them to sleep at the optimal time. When they sleep may be equally important, if not more so, than how much sleep they get.”