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Doctors Agree That School Should Start Later in the Day

Doctors Agree That School Should Start Later in the Day

The debate about whether high schools start too early has waged on for years now, and students may have finally gained their most important allies yet: pediatricians. The doctors who work closely with teenagers are now calling for an official change in educational policy. They’re asking that middle and high schools delay their first class until at least 8:30 a.m. each day.

Adults like to deride teenagers for staying up late and then sleeping in in the morning, but the truth is that this is the natural sleep rhythm for teenagers. Biologically speaking, most teenagers are programmed to go to bed no sooner than 11 p.m. On average, their bodies require over nine hours of sleep, but just 15% of American high school students get even eight and a half hours of sleep on a school night.

Currently, 85% of high schools in America start before 8:30 a.m. By beginning school so early, we’re helping to ensure that the vast majority of American teenagers are sleep deprived. As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points out, this is ridiculous since sleep has such drastic effects on mental and physical health. Moreover, when it comes to tackling these problems, sleep deprivation is relatively preventable.

Practicing a regular sleep schedule is one of the best ways to achieve good sleep health. Due in part to social lives, on the weekends, kids stay up later and sleep in later like their bodies expect them to. Since the sudden shift in routine from having to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier limits quality sleep overall, allowing teens to keep a schedule more consistent with their weekend bedtimes during the week would be beneficial.

Even if kids did get to sleep a little sooner on weekdays, that wouldn’t necessarily make them ready for learning sooner in the morning. Doctors have found that most teenager’s brains don’t even naturally wake up from a sleep state until at least 8 a.m.

As a former high school teacher, I can anecdotally support the research of these pediatricians. My first period classes – which started at 7:40 a.m. – were always my best behaved. This was a dubious distinction, however, because they were also the least engaged students. The truth is, they were just too tired to act out… but also too tired to absorb the information I tried to teach them, as well.

Heading up the charge to push back school start times, Dr. Judith Owens said, “The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and wellbeing of our nation’s youth. By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delays as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”

Will bumping back school times actually be a worthwhile undertaking? Look no further than the 15% of high schools that already start at 8:30 a.m. or later for proof of its success. Not only do these schools record lower rates of absences and tardiness, the students who attend perform better in school and show higher levels of mastery.

If you agree with the AAP, sign this petition asking the U.S. Department of Education to call on schools to start later.

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107 comments

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11:55PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

Not sure what to think about this

10:11PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

Interesting information. Introducing great sleep habits early on would be a good thing.

12:49PM PDT on Sep 5, 2014

In my school days, my parents ran their own business (day care center).
We opened at 6.
I got up at 5, we got there about 5:45, and I helped receive the kids (on average of 22 of them, from 6 months to 6 years), get them their snacks, etc. etc. before walking to school. My first class was at 7:50.
After school, I would walk back to the day care and be there until about 6 pm when the last child was picked up.
I was happy to get my own job at 16, so that I didn't have to work for free for my parents' business any longer. XD
I wasn't dozing off in school, because bedtime was 9:00 on school nights.

Which comes to the point of the comment; if your kids have to be up at 6, then they need to be in bed by 10. If they have to be up at 5, they need to be in bed by 9. Simple math. They need 8 hours.

If the kids don't have to start school until 8:30 or 9:00, then they will just stay up until 1:00 or 1:30 a.m.

The answer to the problem? It should be apparent (a parent).

7:51AM PDT on Sep 5, 2014

I taught in a rural area and some students were up by 4:00 a.m., having ranch or farm chores before meeting their school bus and arriving at school at 7:30 a.m. I was entirely sympathetic, as I had to leave home by 5:20 a.m. in order to drive 45 minutes to the highway where I caught a bus provided by our District to make the additional 45-minute trip to the school where I taught. As a District 1 school, we were serving breakfast to a majority of our students. Most of my 5th and 8th grade students were groggy during first period, if not actually falling asleep, and in general sleep deprivation effects a person through the entire day, even after they seem more "awake". In rural areas where a school district covers a wide area, later starting times are really needed.

8:39PM PDT on Sep 3, 2014

Thanks for the article.

3:31PM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

?

3:58AM PDT on Sep 2, 2014

Here in the U.K most secondary schools at or before 8.30am. There have been studies to show that older children DO learn better with a later start. I would fully support the secondary schools here starting at 9.30am and finishing later. The finish time here is currently around 3pm - earlier than primary schools. The problem in and around London is that you find many of these kids loitering and "hanging around" shopping areas, younger kids play areas etc. They can be a real nuisance. Keep them at school and off the streets I say! They need to start later and finish later for sure!!!

6:20PM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

My husband, who drives school buses as a part time job now that he is retired, picks up his first student shortly before 6 am... They have to be at their technical school by 7.10 am. So that mean they have to get up at, what? 5.30 am?!
This has always sounded appalling to me.

12:40PM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

No comment

9:46AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Let's not forget the ludicrous amount of homework that students are receiving these days. I just thank my lucky stars that I'm homeschooled and don't have to deal with all of that.

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