In summary

The importance of protecting our teens from harmfully early school start times has not changed and has never been more urgent.

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By Rafael Pelayo

Rafael Pelayo is a clinical professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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Joy Wake, Special to CalMatters

Joy Wake is the California outreach coordinator for Let’s Sleep!

Re “New start times for schools this fall would be a disaster”; Commentary, Jan. 25, 2022

As a physician specializing in sleep medicine, and as an advocate for student health, we are concerned that the commentary ignores the key issue of adolescent sleep deprivation and mental health.

Let us be clear: the importance of protecting our teens from harmfully early school start times has not changed, and given the increasing pressure they are under has never been more urgent.

Teens have suffered tremendously during the pandemic. With increases in teen depression and suicide, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared a national emergency in youth mental health and joins the long list of health organizations calling for later school start times to improve teens’ mental health and reduce suicide. This year most of California’s secondary school students will get that help, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 328 in 2019, the healthy school start times law.

Sleep is foundational to health, yet most teens aren’t getting enough of it. Sleep loss is especially harmful to adolescents, causing higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, obesity and car crashes. And the primary cause is school start times that force teens to wake up too early for their naturally later sleep patterns, robbing most of the nine hours they need. When schools start later, teens get more and better sleep, and they are happier, healthier and safer. They do better in school and in life.

Bolstered by billions in extra state and federal funds, many California school districts have already finalized their SB 328-compliant plans for starting middle schools at 8 a.m. or later and high schools at 8:30 a.m. or later. Some took advantage of last year’s scheduling disruptions caused by the shift to virtual learning to usher in the student-centered changes well within the 3-year implementation period.

Across the state and country, school administrators have followed the science and proven that you don’t need to harm kids’ health to run an efficient school district or to have a thriving sports program.

Teens have suffered enough. Let them sleep. Let them dream.

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