New Jersey is the latest state to consider implementing later school start times, particularly for teens. Studies show that the average American teen isn't getting enough sleep, and it's having a dramatic impact on their mental health.
An extra half-hour of sleep might be in the cards for New Jersey's high school students if legislators are able to pass a bill for later school start times across the state. The bill calls for a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later. Most high schools in the state have a start time between 7:20 and 7:40 a.m. The bill is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D), and Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth (D), chair of the Education Committee.
How can later school start times improve a child's mental health?
Does your child struggle to wake up to get ready for school? Are they still sleepy in their classes, unable to concentrate, or even falling asleep during class? While frustrating, this is not an uncommon experience for adolescents in the United States.
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The recommended number of hours children need to sleep depends on their age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 6–13 need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep at night. Teenagers (ages 14–17) need 8–10 hours each night. Unfortunately, most American adolescents are not getting enough sleep. Nearly 60% of middle schoolers do not get enough sleep on school nights. For high schoolers, that number is over 70%.
Recent research has shown that in schools operating with a later start time (from 8:30 a.m. on), students not only got more sleep on average, but academic outcomes and attendance rates also improved, and car crashes involving teen drivers decreased.
"I think we're at the right time that people are willing to listen and do the right thing for kids," Pediatrician Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics New Jersey chapter's Task Force on Adolescent Sleep & School Start Times, told ABC News. "I think the pandemic heightened everyone's awareness of the mental health needs."
Speaker Coughlin, one of the bill sponsors, says lawmakers have been aware of the need for later start times for years.
"This has been suggested for a while, but what really brought it to the forefront is the fact that we have a growing crisis of young people who face mental health challenges in part because of the pandemic," he told The Record/NorthJersey.com.
During the onset of the pandemic, schools across the U.S. pivoted to being fully virtual very quickly. Should later school start times begin to "catch on," hopefully schools everywhere will make the adjustment in the name of boosting mental health.