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Researchers link earlier school start times to higher risk of depression, anxiety Otman

Quality of sleep plays an important role in the level of depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents, according to a recent study at the University of Rochester.

Researchers looked at the self-reported sleep habits of almost 200 high school students across the U.S. They found that good baseline sleep hygiene was directly linked to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and school start times played an important role.   

Lead researcher Jack Peltz, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of Psychiatry at URMC, said a good night's sleep is dependent on a number of factors:  maintaining a consistent bedtime, limiting caffeine and pre-bedtime media usage, and getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep. This was especially true for students who start school before 8:30 in the morning.

"It sort of intensifies that sleep experience and if it's not good quality sleep, that's going to put a burden on their mental health, whereas the students in the later starting schools, they have a little bit more leeway; if they don't sleep as well that night, that's not going to have a direct effect on their mental health."

Despite mounting evidence of the benefits of a later start time for high school students, Peltz said only 14 percent of schools nationwide have a start time of 8:30 or later, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Several Rochester area school districts have studied the issue. Competing concerns include bus schedules and after school activities.  According to Peltz, Rochester’s School of the Arts moved up its start time 10 or 15 minutes last year.

"Given all this research, that more schools aren't more heavily considering delaying starting times for their students is concerning, but then moving them forward goes in the face of decades of research," he said. "If a school is focused on the mental and physical health of its students, this is an important contribution and can't be ignored."

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.