Start school later

Start school later

School board members should prioritize the mental and physical health of middle and high school students and start school later in the day. Poor academic performance, increased caffeine intake, alcohol and tobacco use, fighting, depression, suicidal tendencies, and obesity all have what in common? The answer…sleep deprivation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, teens require between nine and ten hours of sleep per night and are not ready for bed until around 11:00 p.m.Two-thirds of teens get less than seven hours of sleep per night and 33% report falling asleep in school, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Beginning the school day before 8:30 a.m. prohibits teens from getting their necessary sleep.

When they do not get enough sleep, it substantially affects their health, safety and learning. Many experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that school starts no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and numerous benefits have been proven as a result.

As discussed in Silke Schmidt’s article titled “Later School Starts Linked to Better Teen Grades,” changing the start time for middle and high school students improves academic performance, graduation rates, standardized test scores, attendance rates, cognitive processing skills, alertness, memory, attention, mood, immune systems, and mental and physical health.

Starting school too early, has such a negative impact on the students, families and community. The biggest consequence is students not getting better and more sleep, which their bodies and brains need to develop. Another consequence is with it still being dark early in the morning, and teens walking and driving to school sleepy, accidents are more likely to happen. A study conducted in 2016 by SADD and Liberty Mutual revealed that 56% of licensed teens admitted to having driven when feeling too tired, and one in ten said they have fallen asleep at the wheel. Co-founder and Executive Director of ​Start School Later​, Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D.,said, “Moving school start times is no guarantee that most teenagers will get the sleep they need. But not moving school start times is a guarantee that most won’t.” According to the ​StartSchoolLater​ website, ​​, schools in 46 states have successfully adjusted their school schedules to start later. Some have limited varsity practices and extra-curricular activities to under two hours after the school day ends to allow for students to have time in the evening for dinner, homework, and/or work.An argument has been made that starting later would not eliminate sleep deprivation because teens would just stay up later.

However, the article “Later School Starts Linked to Better Teen Grades” references a Seattle study conducted on sleep patterns of 90 sophomores prior to and during the school day schedule change revealed that students did not stay up later after the shift in start times. This has been attributed to the shifts in the sleep-wake cycle in adolescents. During puberty the hormone melatonin is not released until later in the evening, preventing teens from falling asleep before 11:00 p.m. To many, transportation costs for bussing students is a concern as starting early is most cost-effective because the buses are staggered between the elementary, middle and high schools. However, in 2016 the Normal, Illinois school district moved its start time to 8:30 a.m.and tied its plan of more efficient route changes to cut transportation costs and saved $1.1 million annually, according to an article entitled “Are Later Start Times Helping Students in Unit5?”

A later start time may not be cost-effective for bus transportation, but delaying the start timeto 8:30 a.m. could substantially contribute to the economy within a decade. The RAND Corp.and RAND EUROPE suggests a nationwide delay in start times of 8:30 a.m., could contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy within a decade, and almost $9 billion in 2 years. Long-term effects would outweigh the short term costs. These long-term effects include better high-school graduation rates and college attendance rates. Parents find starting school early works better for their schedules, but the majority of teens drive themselves, walk or ride the bus so accommodating their schedules should not be a factor for most.For all of the reasons to start school early in the morning, I have highlighted so many benefits to starting later that outweigh the cost and inconvenience of change. These students are the future generation and they deserve to be a priority. Their mental and physical health are being compromised, and they deserve the best chance at an education. That starts with sleep!