Why High Schools Should Start Later
Two students in 7th grade, Grace and Maya, tell us why school start times should be pushed back for better sleep.
Melatonin and the Sleep Cycle
Melatonin is a hormone produced by a gland in the brain that helps control your sleep. Sleep cycles are pushed back during the teen years. Adolescents’ sleep cycle changes to where they get their best sleep between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatricians says that it is very difficult for most teens to go to bed before 10:30pm or 11pm.
The National Sleep Foundation poll found that 87% of all high schoolers are getting less than the recommended 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours.
High School Start Times
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m. However, start times statistics reflect this:
- 10% of US high schools start before 7:30 A.M.
- 42.5% start before 8 a.m.
- 14.4% start at 8:30 a.m. or later.
This means that the average high school starts at 7:59 a.m. Kelye Lotz, from Boulder, Colo, says: “As a former high school and middle school teacher; I can testify that my classes beginning before 8am were a waste of my students’ time and mine.”
Effects of Sleep Insufficiency
Sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, migraines, and immune system problems. Insufficient sleep leads to risky behavior including:
- Stimulant abuse
- Physical fighting and physical inactivity
- Depression and suicidal tendencies.
A study of 28,000 students found that for each hour of sleep lost, there is a:
- 38% increase in feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- 58% increase in suicide attempts
In addition, 20-30% of high school students fall asleep during classes each day.
Pros of Later Start Times
What has been observed when start times were pushed back:
- Reduced tardiness
- Less sleeping in class
- Fewer car crashes- Jackson Hole HS saw the number of teen car crashes decreased by 70% when they pushed their start time to 8:55.
- Improved attendance, grades, test results, and graduation rates.
Dr. Judy Owens of Boulder Children Hospital (BCH) conducted a study of her daughter’s school when the start time was pushed back to 8:30. She stated, “Their bedtimes shifted earlier by 20min…” Her theory was they were more awake and could get their homework done more efficiently.
Why Schools Should Not Start Later
Many people worry about transportation problems if schools started later. If schools started later, that means they would also have to be let out later, causing disruptions to after-school activities and access to community resources. Most people haven’t considered the effects on teachers. They would end up with less time to spend with their family. Many students and their families fear the change. They would have to completely adjust their daily routines.
After taking a pole from teachers, it was found that many teachers don’t feel that way. They can spend time in the morning, or take the mornings to plan or grade.
After informing parents and students about the many benefits, the majority were able to look past the change and see the positive effects.
Quotes from Parents
Elisabeth Freed from Vermont expressed the opinion, “Please, please think about our children. I’ve seen firsthand the toll early start times have had on my children – mood swings, increase in illness, and chronic fatigue…”
Kathy O’Dell commented, “…It hurts my heart to see this girl, who was once energetic, imaginative, full of grit and potential, walk as if in a fog, barely able to finish assignments or keep up her self-esteem because she simply cannot get enough sleep. To get enough sleep (14) for her age, she would need to be in bed every night by 6:30 p.m. That’s unreasonable.”
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