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A Proposal for Later School Start Times

Teenagers Need More Sleep

Any parent who has the responsibility to awaken a sleeping teenager usually has their hand full! In fact, most parents of teenagers will tell you that teenagers today just don’t get enough sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Adolescent Research Report: Sleep Needs and Resource Guide and Patterns, “90% of parents state that their children are not getting enough sleep, while 60% of teenagers report extreme daytime somnolence”.

Teenagers generally stay up later than younger siblings, but sleep later as well, but this problem may also be due to early school start times because of the average school start time of 8:00 a.m. (and in some cases as early as 7:00 a.m.).  Therefore, teens are averaging about 7 hours of sleep per night which is a full two hours less than current research recommends[i].

Benefits of Later Wake Times (and Later School Times) for Teenagers

According to Baroni, et. al [ii] if school start times were delayed just two hours, academic scores would improve. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math scale scores for eighth-grade students would go up as much as eight points if every school had a one-hour later start time. According to many education experts, this gain is equivalent to a full grade-level increase.

It is certain that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that a good night’s rest helps students learn as sleep increases a student’s ability to focus and process information.  The effects of more sleep on student outcomes is both significant and scientifically documented.

  • According to one researcher,[iii] “students with longer sleep times report significantly higher grades than students with poor sleeping schedules”.
  • The Association for Psychological Science states that sleep can reduce the amount of time needed to learn by more than 50 percent. This group found that participants who slept between each learning session in the study were able to retain the information at a quicker pace than participants who did not sleep between sessions.
  • According to Hershner and Chervin, [iv] there is a clear “association between sleep and GPA” among college students.
  • Studies show that sleep provides a number of benefits including (1) improved focus and concentration; significant memory improvement; and reinforced memories.

Reasons for Current School Start Times

Many schools have established standard 7:30 am to 8:00 am schedules to accommodate the transportation to school and busing schedules. More specifically, many school administrators arrange start times according to their districts’ busing schedules, or the times that school buses are available to pick-up and drop off students at various schools. Since school buses tend to run multiple routes in the morning for the different grade-levels, this forces some students to arrive at school earlier than others. Other reasons for early start times include concerns about after-school programs.  If a school starts late, then the school day ends late, and the associated after-school programs would end much later in the evening.

However, these early opening and dismissal times place a heavy burden on parents, particularly parents with traditional work schedules who must wake up several hours earlier than usual in order to get their children to school on time and leave work several hours early to pick them up. According to UCLA Health, these school schedules also do not match up with the established science that suggests that teenagers often stay up late due to hormonal changes (melatonin increases in the brain) rather than psycho-social motivations.

Recent Examples of Later School Start Times

Over the past decade, many schools across the country have shifted their start times to provide better hours of learning for students and their families.

Jessamine County, KY Schools

In Jessamine County, Kentucky, the superintendent moved ALL start times for elementary, middle, and high schools to after 8:00 a.m., irrespective of the transportation and busing schedules.

Similarly, Seattle recently adopted a plan to start most of its middle and high schools at 8:45 a.m. and most of its elementary schools at 9:35 a.m.

The Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in California reports paying close attention to the sleep and health benefits of later school times and have changed their start times and schedules accordingly.

These schools provide evidence that better school schedules not only help parents but also support student success. In order to improve achievement outcomes for students, as well as the lives of working families, school leaders must rethink how early students start the school day.

Is there Anything Normal about Teen and Adolescent Sleep?

SleepEdu.org is dedicated to meeting the educational needs for professionals in the sleep medicine field. We provide online continuing education courses of a variety of pertinent Sleep related topics that are approved for BRPT CSTE credits (sleep), AARC CRCE credits (respiratory care) and CSRT/CPD credits (respiratory therapy – Canada).  Understanding teenagers additional sleep needs, we offer the course entitled, “Sleep Across the Age Continuum: Is There Anything Normal About Teen and Adolescent Sleep?”

Course Objectives:

  • Correlate the changes in sleep-wake schedule of the teenager and adolescent with expected behavioral changes reflective of restorative sleep.
  • Recognize the specific activity that occurs during sleep in the teenage years with transition into adolescence.
  • Identify the signs and symptoms of insufficient sleep.
  • Correlate the impact of inadequate sleep on health and safety Identify sleep tips to integrate to obtain a regular sleep schedule.

 

To Sign up for the Course:

 

Our courses are written by Sleep Medicine and Respiratory Care Industry Leaders with relevant topics that are engaging.  All Courses are Peer and/or Physician Reviewed! Learn more about SleepEdu.org.

 


[i] Mindell JA & Owens JA (2003). A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep:  Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
[ii] Baroni, E., Naku, K., Spaulding, N., Gavin, M., Finalborgo, M., LeBourgeois, M. K., & Wolfson, A. R. (2004). Sleep habits and daytime functioning in students attending early versus late starting middle schools. Sleep, (pp. A396–A397).
[iii] Megan Lowry, Kayla Dean, and Keith Manders, The Link Between Sleep Quantity and Academic Performance for the College Student.Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
[iv] Nat Sci Sleep. 2014; 6: 73–84.
Published online 2014 Jun 23. doi:  10.2147/NSS.S62907
PMCID: PMC4075951
Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students
Shelley D Hershner and Ronald D Chervin