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Sleep expert calls on schools to follow start time guidelines

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As millions of young people prepare for summer holiday and schools across the nation begin planning for the next school year, Dr. Valerie Crabtree, Chief of Psychosocial Services at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is calling on school districts across the country to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on school start times.

In a piece recently published in Your Teen Magazine, Dr. Crabtree says schools follow CDC and AAP guidelines on everything from hand washing to vaccinations, “But they aren’t following the guidelines for later school start times. We must do better about understanding the importance of sleep for our health, and it should start with our education system.”

As a lead researcher on sleep and fatigue in children undergoing cancer treatment and brain tumor survivors, sleep is a major focus for Dr. Crabtree’s work. She recently spoke at a TedX Talk in Memphis on how very early school start times are detrimental to the health of teenagers as well as those around them. Dr. Crabtree underscores how insufficient sleep in kids and adults contributes to making us overweight, sick and sluggish.

“In children and teenagers, poor or insufficient sleep is related to poorer organization, poorer memory, and academic difficulties. And, frighteningly, chronic sleepiness is correlated to higher rates of depression and increased rates of automobile accidents,” Crabtree said. 

However, Dr. Crabtree points out that schools across the country who have delayed school start times until later have found rewards in a multitude of ways, including:

• Teens getting more sleep;

• Better grades;

• Improved attendance, fewer tardies

• Higher graduation rates;

• Less substance abuse and lower rates of depression;

• Dramatic decrease in automobile accidents;

“In my work at St. Jude, I conduct research on sleep and fatigue in children undergoing treatment for cancer and in brain tumor survivors,” said Dr. Crabtree. “Sleep is the third pillar of health, along with nutrition and movement, that keeps us healthy and balanced. Yet, as a society, we really undervalue the role of sleep in keeping us healthy.”

– Information provided by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital