Having a hard time dragging your tween or teen out of bed in the morning? Now that school days are here, many parents will face the daily struggle to get their kids out of bed and out the door on time. But according to new research, older kids might be better off if we just let them sleep.

According to a policy statement released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), delaying the start of high school and middle school classes could go a long way toward reversing the epidemic of chronic sleep loss and erratic sleep patterns that affect this country's teens. The statement cites several studies that have concluded that multiple factors, such as biological changes in sleep associated with puberty, lifestyle choices and academic demands make it difficult for kids to get enough sleep each night.  

From the AAP statement:

"The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep (8.5–9.5 hours) and to improve physical (eg, reduced obesity risk) and mental (eg, lower rates of depression) health, safety (eg, drowsy driving crashes), academic performance, and quality of life."
Ideally, tweens and teens should get between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night, but in reality, only about 20 percent of older kids actually get this much sleep. According to a 2006 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, almost half of teens get less than eight hours a night. By the time teens are high school seniors, they are only clocking in an average of seven hours of sleep each night.

All of this lack of sleep adds up to an increased risk for obesity, lower levels of physical activity, and higher incidence of car accidents as well as greater likelihood of anxiety and depression and poor academic performance.  

Many older kids (and adults) try to compensate for poor sleep by napping, crashing on weekends, or over-doing it on the caffeine, but these quick fixes can't make up for a good night's sleep. 

The AAP suggests that later school start times — no earlier than 8:30 a.m. — could help alleviate the problem. But they are also quick to point out that it's not the only solution. Homework, sports, social activities, and screen time all compete for time that students could spend sleeping. Limiting these activities in combination with a later start to the school day will help kids catch up on their zzz's, according to the AAP.

Will pushing back the alarm clock and letting kids sleep in a little help improve the health and academics of America's teens? And is your school district considering such a switch?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Related posts on MNN:

Pediatricians say school should start later for teens
Chronic sleep deprivation in teens contributes to poor health and lower academic scores, doctors say.