To the Community of Park City,
We write this letter as pediatricians, family doctors primary care and mental health providers, as well as parents of teens in Park City. We have a vested interest in advocating for the best possible environment for the generations to come. We all want our children to "succeed". Success is defined in many different ways, but often we think of this in terms of academics, athletics/healthy bodies, and nurturing relationships. Many lifestyle choices, such as diet and hard work, contribute to these goals. It is important to recognize that quality sleep is paramount in this equation as well.
Numerous research studies have shown that adolescent sleep loss is associated with poorer academic performance, increased risk of accidents and injuries, and poorer mental and physical health. More specifically, a 2012 review of 39 published studies demonstrated that sleep loss is associated with a nearly 2-fold increased risk of suicide attempts, even after controlling for other risk factors including depressive symptoms. (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23059158 ).
Furthermore, as any parent of a teen will tell you and as we have seen in our practices, a sleepy teen in the household often leads to increased strife within the family. In fact, research has shown that parents of adolescents with inadequate sleep are more likely to report poorer mental health, increased anger, and family conflict. (Pediatrics, 2007)
However, all sleep is not equal. For adolescents in particular, the latter part of their sleep cycle (early morning) is especially important. While the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep for adolescents, they also specify the importance of an 8:30 or LATER school start time to optimize adolescent functioning. This is due to a changing "biological clock" surrounding puberty, which eventually normalizes in adulthood. In addition, a review article on school start times and the sleep-wake cycle of adolescents clearly indicates that lack of synchronicity between early school start times and the circadian rhythm of adolescents (and the sleep debt accumulated as a result) involves several cognitive correlates that may harm the academic performance of adolescent students. (Educational Researcher 2011)
In Park City, with the high school and junior high start time of 7:35 a.m., a clear conflict with adolescent biological rhythms is present. This leads to chronic sleep deprivation.
We are well aware that with any change there will be obstacles to overcome. Timing of the bus systems (especially for siblings) and concerns about after schoolwork and extra-curricular activities are among the biggest hurdles. With any choice there are pros and cons. There will be a different rhythm to the morning and afternoon for all of us with children in the Park City School district if we implement this change. It is our feeling that putting a priority on our children’s health as it relates to sleep creates a ripple effect that will positively impact all measures in their lives. It is worth the effort.