Parents who have trouble waking their high school-age kids in the morning already know what research has also proven: teens’ body clocks are naturally preset for going to bed late and sleeping late. For that reason, several studies have shown later school start times produce both overall health and academic benefits for them.
But there may be another advantage for high schoolers who experience recurring migraine headaches, a condition that affects between 8% and 12% of youngsters in that age group, according to scientists at the University of California – San Francisco. They found in a recent study that migraine sufferers whose high schools started before 8:30 a.m. experienced about three more “headache days” per month than those who started school later.
The researchers surveyed about 1,000 students with migraines, about half of whom started school before 8:30 and half after. They found that the number of headache days per month averaged 7.7 days for the earlier-start group and 4.8 days for the later-start group overall.
While the difference narrowed somewhat when factors like inadequate sleep, skipping breakfast and migraine medication use were taken into account, the difference between the two groups remained significant, said Dr. Amy Gelfand, a neurologist in the Pediatric Headache Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widescale changes in how students attend schools…As we rethink what a typical school day looks like, the time may be ripe for changing school start time as well,” said Gelfand.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. However, just 18% of public middle and high schools nationwide currently follow this recommendation.