Should Schools Start Later in the Day?

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By Susan Heckler

Waking up a school age child at any time is not an easy task.  Let’s face it, they all want to stay up late and they all require lots of sleep.

In actuality, waking a sleepy parent up to wake a sleepy student up is a double whammy.
Research from the 1990’s shows that it is nature telling our kids how to sleep and their sleep patterns are biologically determined. There is evidence suggesting that teenagers are seriously sleep deprived. A recent poll conducted by the According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15% said they fell asleep at school during the year. A growing brain and maturing bodies need on average 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep per night. Due to shifting circadian rhythms (your internal body clock), many teens can’t fall asleep before 11pm even if they wanted to (which they don’t).

School times vary within communities. In our part of Western Monmouth County, many schools stagger the start times within the district to maximize the use of their school transportation. If all schools started and ended at the same time, you would need to increase the amount of busses and drivers to accommodate it.

A 2005 congressional resolution introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) recommended that middle schools nationwide start at 9am or later. The theory is that if schools start later, the student will have more time to sleep in, leaving them more rested and able to concentrate on lessons which may increase student achievement. The theory goes on to state that earlier start times will not mean earlier bed times for students, especially once adolescent hormones kick in.

Mary Carskadon, PhD, a renowned expert on adolescent sleep, cites several advantages for teens to get the sleep they need:
• Less likelihood of experiencing depressed moods
• Reduced likelihood for tardiness
• Reduced absenteeism
• Better grades
• Reduced risk of drowsy driving
• Reduced risk of metabolic and nutritional deficits associated with insufficient sleep, including obesity.

According to Phys.Org, a recently published article by the American Psychological Association where the research was led by Peggy S. Keller, a UK associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, she found that earlier school start times were associated with lower standardized test scores, poorer attendance, lower school rank and school under-performance.

For those of you with high school drivers, here is something to think about. A 2011 study found that the weekday crash rate among high school students in Virginia Beach, where classes began at 7:20-7:25 a.m. was significantly higher than in adjacent Chesapeake, VA, where classes started at 8:40-8:45. For students too young to drive themselves, waiting for a school bus in the dark, at any age, is not a good idea.

School hours are set by each district; it is not mandated by government at any level. If your district is in favor of a change, they have the power to do it without legislation. The question to parents would be if they would be willing to pay higher school taxes to cover the increased cost of transportation if it meant a well-rested student with a better chance at succeeding.