Later Start To School Day Would Aid Students

Guest Opinion from Issue 6


Like days in a work week, school days typically start around 8 am. First period comes, and students are yawning even though they have been awake and moving around for at least an hour. Why is that?

We’re not awake yet. As kids become teenagers, the sleep-wake cycle moves two hours later. Most undergo a sleep phase delay, which means having a tendency toward later times for both falling asleep and waking up. This makes it, if not impossible, very difficult for us to go to sleep before 10:30 p.m. The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers is 8 ½ to around 9 hours each night for best performance and brain development. Most teenagers average less than 7 hours of sleep per school night. This is most likely because of hectic schedules which don’t allow enough hours for quality sleep. Trying to balance after school activities, jobs, homework hours and family obligations, social demands like school start times along with biological changes put most teenagers on a later sleep-wake clock. So when it’s time to wake up and go to school, our body says it’s still the middle of the night and the snooze button gets a workout.

It’s proven that school starting later is better for our health, safety and academic performance. Changes in sleep patterns contribute to excessive sleepiness which impairs daytime functioning. Sleep deprivation is associated with many things such as obesity, migraines, and immune system disruption in teenagers. Fewer hours of sleep causes us to be sluggish and slows reflexes, even hours we wake up. For those of us that drive ourselves to school, this directly affects our chances of having a wreck during the commute to school (It’s been proven we are at the highest risk for drowsy driving). For example, when Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming shifted its start time to 8:55 a.m., the number of car crashes involving teenage drivers dropped by 70%. Starting schools later could also benefit the working world by reducing the number of cars on the road. Less traffic means a faster commute. After switching middle school start times by thirty or more after 8 a.m. in Wake County, North Carolina, there was an increase in students’ average math and reading test scores.

Now what are the cons of starting later? Transportation is a significant issue, but could be fixed. Flipping start times and changing bus pickup order is a common idea with elementary and high school. Changing the order of pickups seems to be more appropriate for elementary school students’ sleep schedules; young children tend to wake up earlier in the morning. This topic is an issue in areas where the start time is quite early. In order for students to get up early and get the recommended 10-11 hours, they have to go to bed early. However parents may not get home from work until very near or after bedtime.

Delay of start time means delay of release time, which could possibly affect students with after school jobs. This issue is important for certain families who need the extra income. However, studies have shown that a change in start times has not affected employers’ businesses or the number of hours their student employees can work. Employers don’t usually need extra help until schools let out anyway, which makes it easy to adjust to a new schedule.

Another issue is later start and release times will leave teachers less time to spend with their families. Though in practice, teachers rarely found it to be true. Many are able to spend more time with their young students in the morning. Others arrive at school the same time and complete planning before school, leaving their schedules unchanged. Most teachers take advantage of the extra time to sleep, giving them more energy to be alert and effectively handle problems in the classroom. Teachers who also coach see very little impact on their role as a coach and adjust normally to the schedule.

The idea of this later start system should be put under real consideration. Not every school can adopt this system because of complications, but schools who are able to make the adjustment should try it, in my opinion.