Next year, three high schools in Virginia's Fauquier County are making the move to a new athletic conference, a transition that has some worried that the new competition has an unfair advantage: sleep. High schools in neighboring Loudoun county start later, at approximately 9 a.m. It's not a difference that most athletic programs might think of, but there's a growing body of evidence to suggest that later school start times are crucial to improving students' performance, academic and physical.
According to recent findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the effects of chronic sleep deprivation on youth are as wide spanning as they are serious. "Adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life," said lead author, Dr. Judith Owens.
The AAP's findings are just the most recent in a slew of studies that have determined that adolescents are chronically sleep deprived in the U.S., but the conclusion they reach is one of the most important: 8:30 a.m. or later school start times leads to more sleep for students, which in turn reduces depression, improves academics and even enhances sports performances.
That's right — a child's athletic performance depends enormously on the amount of sleep they get.
In 2012, the AAP released a study showing that student athletes who got eight or more hours of sleep per night were 68% less likely to suffer a sports-related injury compared with their peers who slept less. In 2008, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine measured Stanford University swimmers' times when they were on their regular sleeping patterns and when they got over 10 hours of rest per night; unsurprisingly, their times significantly improved with more rest.
Just as it can improve a student's school performance, adequate sleep allows students to perform to their best abilities on their respective courts. The more rested an adolescent is, the more focused they can be on the obstacles that lie ahead. And since it can be hard for kids to climb into bed at a decent hour, later school start times may offer just the sleep solution their bodies and minds crave.
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Andrew Brandt is an intern with Athletic Business.