To the Editor:
As physicians living in Princeton with children in local public schools, we are encouraged by the district’s decision to move the daily start time from 7:50 to 8:20 a.m. at Princeton High School. There is convincing evidence that later start times — allowing for increased and higher quality sleep — significantly improve adolescent physical and emotional well-being, including academic and athletic performance. It is for this reason that we are asking Princeton Public Schools to work toward an 8:30 or later start time for older students.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sleep deprivation is one of the greatest public health problems in the United States. It impacts millions of people — especially adolescents — causing widespread and well-documented negative consequences to society as a whole. Lack of sleep is associated with adolescent stress, poor academic performance, and an overall decline in social and emotional health, at a time when we already face alarming rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.
In 2014, the AAP released a policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” recommending that middle and high school students start school at 8:30 or later to reflect the natural shift in adolescent circadian rhythms. In 2015, the CDC published research about school start times that echoed the AAP’s recommendation and found that nearly two-thirds of adolescents in the United States are chronically sleep deprived.
The August 7, 2017 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describes common obstacles faced by proponents of delayed start times. These include concerns about transportation, scheduling of athletic and other after-school activities, as well as a lack of awareness about the link between sleep, school start times, and adolescent health outcomes. The report urges those resistant to later start times to study the compelling research behind this policy recommendation. We hope decision-makers in our community will do the same. More information can be found at www.aap.org and www.CDC.gov.
We also support other recent district initiatives that help alleviate stress and improve the overall health of our students, including changes to the homework policy, healthier cafeteria food options, and updates to the health and physical education curriculum. We hope the PPS superintendent and the Board of Education will implement the AAP’s 8:30 or later start time recommendation for both PHS and JWMS, in the near future, and we encourage the community to support the efforts of our school district to put the health of our children first.
Stephanie Chorney, MD, FAAP
Phil Ludmer, MD
David Nathan, MD, DFAPA
Abigail Rose, MD, MPH
Bruce Rose, MD, ACM-ASIM;
Helen Rose, MD, FAAP