According to the School Health Policies and Practices in 2014, a majority of high schools (93%) and middle schools (83%) in the US had starting times before 8:30 a.m. (“School Starts Early”). However, this schedule poses difficulties for teenagers who require later bedtimes. Studies show that students have their best sleep between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. As a result, certain schools conducted experiments to assess the effects of delaying school start times.
Seattle Public Schools recently adjusted their school start time, moving it from 7:50 am to 8:45 am. This modification caused apprehension within the community as people were uncertain about how this change would affect them and their children. Numerous concerns emerged relating to transportation via bus and involvement in extracurricular activities. However, a significant concern centered around the potential impact on their children’s educational journey.
Thankfully, the school system has found evidence and confidence that postponing the start of school helps students stay attentive and retain more information in class. The results have confirmed their belief as students are using the extra time to sleep in, leading to increased alertness throughout the day and improved academic performance (Urton, James). Several studies have shown that delaying the beginning of the school day not only improves student learning but also has positive effects on the community.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that pushing back school start times can improve student learning and reduce health risks. To stay healthy, the AASM suggests that children aged six to twelve should get nine to twelve hours of sleep each night.
Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that teenagers aged thirteen to eighteen should try to get eight to ten hours of sleep. Inadequate sleep has been linked to a range of negative effects, including an increased risk of obesity. Additionally, insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing depression, having suicidal thoughts, and engaging in harmful behaviors like alcohol consumption, smoking, and drug use (“School Start Times”). Despite recommendations from health experts, many school districts continue to have early start times. Consequently, this lack of sleep among teens has contributed to a global rise in car accidents.
Research shows that starting school later not only addresses health risks but also improves academic performance. In 2002, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities conducted a study indicating that high school students experience significant sleep deprivation when classes begin before 8:15 a.m., as their sleep patterns are influenced by biology. During puberty, most teenagers and preteens usually go to bed around 11 p.m. to achieve the recommended eight to twelve hours of sleep. Consequently, they may not wake up until 8:00 a.m.
Many students struggle to get enough sleep because they stay up late and have early school start times. Experts suggest adjusting the school day to begin later is the best solution since preteens and teenagers naturally stay awake later. For instance, Fairfax County high schools changed their start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. during the 2014-15 school year. The district conducted a formal survey to evaluate the effects of this change, which revealed that students who obtain sufficient sleep feel refreshed and prepared for learning. Moreover, parents have more time in the morning and can enjoy breakfast with their children at home (Crist, Carolyn).
The surveys demonstrated that primary school students benefited the most when their school start times were delayed. Both high school and middle school students reported getting more sleep, with around 10% reporting better sleep quality and 20% reporting reduced daytime sleepiness. The study revealed that because these students were receiving more sleep during weekdays, they no longer felt the need to compensate for it on weekends. However, their weekend sleep duration decreased from slightly over 2 hours to 1.2 hours (“Later School Start Times”). As a result, average attendance rates increased from 90% to 94%, and graduation rates improved from 79% to 88% (Crist, Carolyn). Moreover, researchers observed enhancements in attendance, reductions in high school tardiness, improvements in student grades, fewer instances of falling asleep in class, decreases in disciplinary issues, and lower levels of irritability and depressive symptoms (Foley, Logan).
Lastly, the most crucial consequence of schools postponing their start times is their impact on the value and consequently the school community. Concerned parents are now contemplating ways to assist their children in resolving sleep issues. Implementing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, including on weekends, and minimizing light exposure can enhance children’s sleep quality, boost academic achievement, and mitigate health hazards. Another advantage of delayed school starts is a reduction in costs.
Administrations with limited funds claim that modifying schedules can save money by encouraging bus companies to maximize their use of buses. For example, school authorities in West Des Moines expect to save around $700,000 annually by adjusting their schedule. This amount is nearly half the budget reduction needed for the 2006-07 academic year.
Research indicates that postponing the commencement of the school day would be advantageous for students and the community as a whole. Both parents and school administrators acknowledge that altering start times would also impact dismissal times. Consequently, students engaged in extracurricular activities, like marching band or sports teams, may face challenges due to rescheduled practice hours.
Delaying the start of school can result in less time for students to do homework and pursue personal interests when they return home later. This change has led to reduced participation in afterschool activities at some schools. There are also worries about transportation because parents may be busy with work during drop-off times. However, research demonstrates that options like walking, carpooling, or taking the bus are accessible even if parents cannot give rides. Moreover, these alternative transportation methods can help lower the chances of car accidents.
- Crist, Carolyn. “Later School Start Times Catch on Nationwide.” District Administration, vol. 53, no. 4, Apr. 2017, p. 24. Gale in Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A490936968/SUIC?u=tel_k_frhs&sid=SUIC&xid=a47b7cfa. Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.
- Foley, Logan. “How Would Later School Start Times Affect Sleep?” Edited by Nilong Vyas. Sleep Foundation a OneCare Media Company, 5 Feb. 2021, www.sleepfoundation.org/school-and-sleep/later-school-start-times. Accessed 8 Apr. 2021.
- “Later School Start Times Mean Better-Rested Kids: Study.” Consumer Health News, 15 Apr. 2021, p. NA. Gale in Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A658623299/SUIC? u=tel_k_frhs&sid=SUIC&xid=2d8f3754. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.
- “School Starts to Early.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/schools-start-too-early.html. Accessed 8 Apr. 2021.
- “School Start Times.” Gale in Context Online Collection, Gale, 2018. Gale in Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/QFGSWX560361343/SUIC?u=tel_k_frhs&sid=SUIC&xid=82ece8e8. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.
- Tonn, Jessica L. “Later High School Start Times a Reaction to Research.” Education Week, vol. 25, no. 28, 22 Mar. 2006, p. 5. Gale in Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A215124347/SUIC?u=tel_k_frhs&sid=SUIC&xid=6153c3f1. Accessed 26 Apr. 2021.
- Urton, James. “Teens Get More Sleep, Show Improved Grades and Attendance with Later School Start Time, Researchers Find.” University of Washington, 12 Dec. 2018, www.washington.edu/news/2018/12/12/high-school-start-times-study/. Accessed 8 Apr. 2021.