In an opinion piece for The Connecticut Post, Yale professor Marney A. White argues for earlier start times as an aid to youth mental health:
“Connecticut’s youth are in a mental health crisis. Rates of depression, anxiety, substance use and suicide among adolescents have been increasing in recent decades. Mental health experts have identified many reasons for this: widespread use of social media, fewer face-to-face social interactions, cyberbullying, and increasing academic pressures all play a role. Global crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbate this vulnerability. Even before the pandemic, this trend in worsening mental health was well documented.
We need to identify swift and effective interventions for Connecticut’s youth.
Sleep deprivation is a primary risk factor for mental health problems in teens. Early school start times are especially problematic since they conflict with adolescents’ sleep needs. Teenagers’ biological rhythms are disrupted by early wake times, leading to daytime sleepiness, poor concentration and other cognitive difficulties.
The research is definitive: high-school aged children benefit from later start times for high school. Later start times ensuring adequate sleep are associated with reduced rates of suicidal thoughts, lower incidence of mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and fewer driving accidents in this high-risk population. Later start times are also associated with enhanced academic achievement and improved attendance.
Research conducted in other states has found that delaying high school start times by a mere 30 minutes results in increased sleep duration, and subsequent improvements in academic and health outcomes.”
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