self-reporting of grades and sleep times, and lack a control for potential confounders (Wolfson and Carskadon, 2003). An association between short sleep duration and lower academic performance has been demonstrated (Wolfson and Carskadon, 1998; Drake et al., 2003; Shin et al., 2003), but the question of causality has not been resolved by longitudinal studies. A 3-year study of 2,200 middle school students did not find that sleep loss resulted in lower academic performance. It only found a cross-sectional association at the beginning of the study. However, by the end of the study, as sleep time worsened, grades did not proportionately decrease (Fredriksen et al., 2004). A study of the Minneapolis School District, which delayed start times for its high schools by almost 1.5 hours (from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m.), found significant improvements in sleep time, attendance, and fewer symptoms of depressed mood (Wahlstrom et al., 2001). Further, there was a trend toward better grades, but not of statistical significance. The study compared grades over the 3 years prior to the change with grades 3 years afterwards.

Much of the difficulty in studying sleep loss and its relation to academic performance stems from multiple, often unmeasured, environmental factors that affect sleep (such as school demands, student employment after school, family influences, TV viewing, and Internet access). These are set against the rapid developmental and physiological changes occurring in adolescence. Another difficulty is the challenge of objectively assessing school performance (Wolfson and Carskadon, 2003).

Additional robust intervention studies are needed to determine the effect of having later school start times on student performance. However, a confounder to later school start times is the potential onset of sleep phase delay during middle school (seventh and eighth grade). Moving middle school start time early to compensate for later high school start time may be problematic for the middle school children. There have been no studies that have examined effects of early start time on elementary-aged children (Wolfson and Carskadon, 2003). An alternative to changing the school starting times might be to implement bright light therapy in early morning classes for high school students as a means to change the circadian timing system of these students and thereby enable earlier sleep schedules (Wolfson and Carskadon, 2003).

Sleep Loss and Medical Errors

The Institute of Medicine’s report To Err Is Human estimated that as many as 98,000 deaths—due to medical errors—occur annually in United States hospitals (IOM, 2000). Long work hours and extended shifts among hospital workers are now known to contribute to the problem. Since the report’s release, several new studies, discussed below, have found strong

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