Bill for later school start times is defeated, but Stanford sleep specialist isn’t


Photo by Santiago Gomez

The medical evidence is clear — teens are suffering physical and mental health problems due to chronic sleep deprivation. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other health organizations recommend starting classes at all middle and high schools at 8:30 am or later.

“We’ve known for decades that teenagers are not getting enough sleep,” says Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. “Senate Bill 328 came out of presenting the strong evidence-based, peer-reviewed data to elected officials. Even the people opposed to the bill accept the science.”

So if everyone agrees that our teens need more sleep, why didn’t the bill pass? The main objection of teachers, school boards and ultimately Governor Jerry Brown centers on giving the local community control of individual school decisions.

“We’ve stepped into this ongoing battle between state control and local control of schools,” Pelayo says. “But I don’t consider this a political issue. This is a public health issue. Hundreds of schools have already changed and they see the same result — kids are healthier and perform better. This is a matter of honoring kid’s biology. It doesn’t work to just say they should go to bed earlier.”

Pelayo’s push for later school start times is also inspired by his professional experiences. “My career as a sleep doctor began through my knowledge of adolescent sleep. During medical school, my research found a link between suicidal thinking and sleep problems in teenagers. I’ve been learning about poor sleep and mental health issues in teens since the 1980s.”

Despite this recent setback, Pelayo plans to keep volunteering. For years, he’s been giving talks about sleep at many local high schools and middle schools. “Teenagers are interested in sleep apnea, their dreams and all aspects of sleep. I’ve given a bunch of talks on sleep for years,” Pelayo says.

He’s also recently become a director of a national organization called Start School Later. Overall, he hopes to promote more education, research and funding for this issue.

“About 300 school districts have already mandated a later school start time,” Pelayo says, adding that San Diego schools are planning to implement later start times by 2020. “If California had passed SB 328, it would have accelerated this process. Instead, we’ll have to do it piecemeal. And that’s too bad, since kids need sleep now.”

But, Pelayo says, “This issue is not going away, it is actually gaining momentum.”

This is a reposting of my Scop blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

California bill aims for later school start times to protect teens’ health

Photo by Sari Choochi-Be

Odds are that you’re feeling tired when you read this. More than one in three American adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, and studies show sleep deprivation is an even greater problem for teens. This poses a public health risk — inadequate sleep is linked to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity and cancer.

“Society has not prioritized sleep,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, told me. “Teenagers need more sleep than adults, so they are more vulnerable. Biologically teens tend to go to sleep later than when they were younger, but the schools start earlier. Teens should get close to 9 hours of sleep, but they get 7 hours or less.”

This epidemic of sleep deprivation among teens prompted California Senator Anthony Portantino (D-Glendale) to introduce Senate Bill 328, which would require middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 am. Currently the average school start time in California is about 8 am, and some schools have a “zero period” that starts as early as 7 am.

“It is an extra 30 minutes or more every morning for the entire school year,” Pelayo said. “The later start time lets teens and families know that sleep is valued and respected by society. School districts that have changed their school start times have had demonstrable improvements in the health of the students.”

According to the American Psychological Association, studies have shown that starting the school day no earlier than 8:30 am increased attendance rates, grade point averages, state assessment scores, college admission test scores, student attention and student-family relations. They also found a decrease in disciplinary action, students sleeping during class and student-involved car accidents.

Such evidence inspired Pelayo to testify today in Sacramento in support of SB 328. He also rallied support among professional organizations and he plans to present letters of support from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the California Sleep Society, of which he is a board member.

Despite the evidence demonstrating the harm of sleep deprivation in teens, there are arguments against the bill. Opponents argue that school start times should be determined locally and that starting school later will be inconvenient. It is also viewed by some as a school policy issue rather than a health issue, Pelayo said.

Nonetheless, Pelayo believes the effort is important:

“Too many families end the day with an argument about bedtimes and homework and start the day with an argument about getting up in time for school. Twenty-five percent of teenagers self-report falling asleep in class and the actual number is likely higher. If a first or second grader fell asleep in class, the teachers would notify the parents since it is so unusual, yet for teens it is a daily occurrence. If this many teenagers were not getting enough food it would be a national crises, but since it is sleep it is ignored. Teens that wake up alert are healthier and do better both academically and in sports.”

The California bill comes at a time of heightened national awareness about teen sleep. Pelayo is speaking at the first national conference on school start times, which will be held in Washington DC later this month.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

When is snoring worth worrying about? A Q&A with a Stanford sleep surgeon

Illustration by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
Illustration by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

I’m a sensitive sleeper when it comes to snoring. When I visit my dad, his snoring — through walls and doors — keeps me awake. Pondering an upcoming holiday visit got me wondering: “Is that annoying snoring something to worry about?”

Snoring results from interrupted breathing during sleep. When someone’s upper airway repetitively collapses, vibrations from the soft palate and tongue can create the characteristic sound of snoring.

“Habitual snoring is a nuisance to bed partners,” said Stanford sleep surgeon Stanley Yung Liu, MD, DDS. “Many patients seek care because they’ve been asked to leave the bedroom and sleep on the living room couch.”

But snoring is often more than a nuisance. According to Liu, a patient should see a sleep specialist if snoring is accompanied by daytime complaints of sleepiness, headaches, or mood disturbances such as feeling anxious, irritable or depressed.

“Asleep patients are often unaware of breathing interruptions that have serious health risks,” Liu said. “Snoring is a warning sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — but not every snorer has sleep apnea, and not everyone with sleep apnea snores. Snoring and OSA can lead to serious health risks such as arrhythmia, high blood pressure, neurocognitive impairment and accidents due to sleepiness.”

While the bed partner is frequently the first to ‘diagnose’ snoring and OSA, the gold standard diagnostic test is an overnight sleep study called a polysomnography. Performed at a sleep lab or at home, the study can track sleep disturbances and loss of oxygenation due to breathing interruptions.

Treatment greatly varies depending on whether a patient’s snoring is associated with obstructive sleep apnea and at what level — none, mild, moderate or severe. Liu explained the main treatments options:

CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) is used for patients with all levels of snoring and OSA. A patient wears a nasal, oral or full-face mask that delivers positive air pressure to the upper airway during sleep. This stents open the airway, and prevents snoring and airway collapse.

An oral appliance may be recommended for patients with snoring and mild OSA, when CPAP is not well tolerated. Nearly 40 percent of American patients are unable to use CPAP adequately. Worn like a night guard, the oral appliance pushes the lower jaw forward and stabilizes the airway.

Surgical solutions for snoring and OSA can also be highly effective. Contemporary treatment planning is patient specific with consideration of upper airway anatomy, disease severity and patient preference.”

Finally, Liu doesn’t want patients to get discouraged if one treatment option doesn’t work. He recommends going to a sleep center like Stanford, which has a comprehensive ‘playbook’ of solutions that can be individually adapted. “We can get folks sleeping on living room couches back into their bedrooms, and waking up feeling refreshed!”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Take a nap: It’s good for your heart

Photo by Ludosphère
Photo by Ludosphère

Poor sleep is likely to make you feel grumpy and unfocused, but more importantly it puts you at risk for serious medical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease — and it shortens your lifespan.

A new study shows that sleep loss also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by changing how your body metabolizes cholesterol.

Recently reported in Scientific Reports, University of Helsinki’s sleep team studied the cholesterol metabolism of sleep-deprived people, measuring their gene expression and the levels of blood lipoprotein, a molecule that transports cholesterol through the blood. They assessed these factors for a small group of volunteers who only slept four hours per night for five days. The team also looked at longer-term effects on cholesterol metabolism using data from two large population studies with 2739 participants.

The study found that people getting insufficient sleep have fewer high-density lipoproteins (HDL) — the “good” proteins that act as cholesterol scavengers to decrease accumulation of atherosclerosis within the walls of arteries — than people who get enough sleep.

“It is particularly interesting that these factors contributing to the onset of atherosclerosis, that is to say, inflammatory reactions and changes to cholesterol metabolism, were found in the experimental study and in the epidemiological data,” said Vilmo Aho, a graduate student at the University of Helsinki, in a recent news release.

The bad news is they showed that even a week of sleep deprivation had a significant impact. Aho explained in the release:

The experimental study proved that just one week of insufficient sleep begins to change the body’s immune response and metabolism. Our next goal is to determine how minor the sleep deficiency can be while still causing such changes.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

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