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Study: Teens do better when school starts later in the morning

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A new University of Minnesota study released Wednesday makes a strong case for later start times for high schools. The three-year study is the first to link later morning school start times to better academic performance, higher test scores and fewer car accidents involving teens, the Star Tribune reports.

The study was conducted by the U's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. It analyzed data from more than 9,000 students at eight high schools in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming -- comparing attendance, tardiness, test scores and grades in several subjects from when those schools had earlier start times to when they went to later start times. The findings show improvement in all those areas when classes began at 8 a.m. or later, according to the Star Tribune.

A previous, smaller study involving students in Edina and Minneapolis showed later start times had produced higher graduation rates, according to KARE 11. This new study, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found even more benefits of later start times, and thus more sleep, for high school students.

“People keep asking me, ‘Is this [later school start times] really making a difference?’ ” said project director Kyla Wahl­strom, according to the Star Tribune. “We didn’t have the proof until now."

Wahlstrom said teens should get at least eight hours of sleep every night, but teenage sleep patterns don't usually allow them to fall asleep until around 11 p.m., according to KARE 11. Sending them to bed earlier doesn't necessarily mean they'll get more sleep.

"If you have a 7:10 or 7:15 start," said Wahlstrom, "you are getting up at 6:30 or 6:15."

Schools also saw a drop in substance abuse and symptoms of depression among their students with the later start times. Some even saw a big drop in car crashes involving teenage students.

“The eight hours of sleep seems to be a tipping point for making healthy or unhealthy behavioral decisions,” Wahlstrom said, according to the Star Tribune.

But only 34 percent of students in the study got eight hours of sleep when their school day started at 7:30 a.m. compared to 66 percent of students at schools that start as late as 8:55 a.m.

A common objection to later start times comes from coaches who fear cutting into sports practice times at the end of the school day. However, Wahlstrom said coaches she spoke with found that the athletes were more able to remember plays and could perform better physically with more sleep, according to KARE 11.

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