The Research Behind the Argument for a Later School Start Time
By Amy Wadsworth
Sleeping in, even for a little while on a weekday, might seem like an unnecessary luxury to some, but for high school students it’s been proven to be a medical necessity. Nine hours of sleep is ideal for most teens according to a number of recent highly regarded studies, including one administered by Stanford University. Teens’ bodies and minds are biologically programmed to start the day later than those of adults. Early class times are often scheduled far before the teen has achieved full alertness.
The unique circadian rhythm of a teen shifts later and “sets” a bedtime for around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. (before puberty, the body is sleepy around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m.), with peaking restoration between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. (compared to an adult’s which peaks at 4 a.m.). According to UCLA’s Sleep Center, “If teens resist or ignore this change, they will make this time of transition very hard on their bodies,” and sleeping in later on the weekends will only throw their body clocks off further.
It’s a recipe for both educational and health disaster. The fix for the problem is actually quite simple: a later school start time.
A new study by Pamela McKeever of Central Connecticut State University and her colleague Linda Clark found that delaying high school start times to 8:30 a.m. and later significantly improved graduation and attendance rates. School districts “set students up for failure by endorsing traditional school schedules,” McKeever writes, and this practice continues even in the face of mounting evidence supporting the benefits of a later start time.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 42 states 75%-100% of public schools start before 8:30 a.m. According to the CDC, school should begin no earlier than 8:30.
Many school districts such as those in Minneapolis, MN; Seattle, WA; Fairfax County, VA; Greenwich, Ridgefield and Wilton, CT, have instituted this program already with great success. Solutions can be found that don’t cost a district additional funds in terms of transportation. The districts employing a later start time have easily rearranged bus schedules to accommodate their new schedule. Elementary school schedules can be preserved and after school sports programs will likely see more participation, greater success and less injuries. High school is an important time for learning and building an educational foundation for the years ahead.
Greenwich High School has enjoyed improvements in their sports program, with an undefeated football team, as well as a winning debate team. Studies continue to show later school starts increase graduation rates and school attendance. Below are some excellent links with scientific evidence for pushing back the school day.
Amy is an active, busy mother of two teenage boys living in CT. Active in school and community event planning, publicity, and fundraising. Advocate for mental and physical well-being for all. Lover of health, nutrition and giving back to the community.