By Joe Sluka and Dr. David Dedrick

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The St. Charles Health System board of directors and its executive leadership team recently voted to formally endorse the Bend-La Pine school district’s proposal to shift school start times.

We believe this change, which would have elementary school students start the day earlier while middle and high school students start later, will benefit the health of our children and our community. The school district is currently collecting public comments on this proposal, which would likely go into effect during the 2019-20 school year if approved.

As the largest employer in the region and the largest provider of health care, we feel compelled to share our opinion on the topic and strongly demonstrate our support.

In recent years, many studies have shown that early start times for high school students are not commensurate with their circadian biology — their natural sleep patterns. A healthy amount of sleep is at least eight hours a night. Because teens have a difficult time falling asleep, early school start times often lead to overall sleep deprivation. This can ultimately result in decreased school performance, decreased attendance and increased car accidents.

For example, a study of Virginia high school students published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in November 2015, concluded that students with early school start times experienced a higher rate of automobile crashes than those with later arrival times.

In addition, a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center concluded that starting school before 8:30 a.m. can potentially lead to even more devastating problems for teens including increased rates of depression and anxiety.

How the emotional well-being of children is impacted by school start times is an issue we hope parents and community members understand when providing feedback on the school district’s proposal. Insufficient sleep is a strong component of adolescent depression and anxiety.

Giving our children the opportunity to sleep within their biologic circadian time should give them the best chance at reducing the negative effects that insufficient sleep can have. Changing school start times is becoming a national trend and is supported in medical literature. Let’s help Central Oregon be on the leading edge of this important transition.

We recognize the significant impacts this shift will have on the operations of the school district. The change will affect bus schedules and athletics. It could cause disruptions in work schedules and child care plans. But the overwhelming medical evidence outweighs the significance of what are sure to be temporary inconveniences as we all adjust to a new normal.

It is our hope that by sharing our support, community members and parents will understand the critical health factors involved and will agree that protecting the emotional and physical well-being of our children is of paramount importance.

— Joe Sluka is the president and CEO of St. Charles Health System and Dr. David Dedrick is the medical director of St. Charles Sleep Center.

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