The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released a position statement today arguing for later school start times for middle and high schoolers, a move aimed at improving teens’ mental and physical well-being as well as their academic performance.

The AASM says school should start at 8:30 a.m. or later. “Early school start times make it difficult for adolescents to get sufficient sleep on school nights,” Dr. Nathaniel Watson, lead author and AASM past president, said in the statement. Research supports how later start times help students get enough sleep, which “optimizes daytime alertness, reduces tardiness and improves school attendance,” the statement explains.

The AASM recommends that teens aged 13 to 18 years old get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night, though the statement points to CDC data showing that 68.4 percent of high school students report sleeping 7 hours or less on school nights.

Sleep deprived students can suffer from a host of mental and physical problems, the AASM notes, including but not limited to metabolic dysfunction, increased depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and risk-taking behaviors. Additionally, sleepy teens can pose a danger to other people: Drowsy driving is associated with increased risk of car crashes, which account for “35 percent of all deaths and 73 percent of deaths from unintentional injury in teenagers,” according to the AASM. The organization says delaying school start times by an hour could lead to a 16.5 percent decline in crash rates.

Later start times could give adolescents “a better opportunity to get the sufficient sleep they need to learn and function at their highest level,” Watson says. However, later start times are just part of the recipe for getting teens to improve their sleep habits. The authors note that cultivating good sleep hygiene, like consistent bedtimes and cutting out electronic devices before bed (especially those with social media, which already keeps teens awake at night) are vital to help teens get the sleep they need for peak mental and physical health.

Read the entire AASM statement here.

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