Approximately 100 years ago, most schools began their day at approximately 9 a.m.. However, these days, most schools begin before 8 a.m.. This is because schools switched to earlier starting hours in the 1970s and 1980s to save money on busing expenses and to better coordinate with after-school schedules. A main consequence of early school start times is sleep deprivation among teen-agers.
According to Start School Later (SSL), “Early school hours prevent many students and young teachers from getting the nine or so hours of sleep per night that most teenagers and young adults need.”
These school schedules do not fit in with the biological sleep schedule of high school students, which is approximately 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Since many students are up late completing homework and have to wake up early for school, it can be difficult for them to get the proper amount of sleep.
Wendy Troxel, a sleep researcher from Pittsburgh, stated “Only about one in 10 [American teenagers] gets the eight to 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by sleep scientists and pediatricians.”
Many students at Notre Dame Preparatory have to wake up between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. to begin preparing for school, in order to make the 7:40 a.m. bell. One solution to this lack of sleep is starting A period later.
“Some school districts … are starting high school students at a later time during the day, just so they can get enough sleep,” said Dr. Wendy D. Kaye, a pediatrician in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That would be a great change.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, high schools should begin at 8:30 a.m. or later. However, this is not the case in most high schools. In the United States, 93 percent of high schools start before 8:30 a.m., according to SSL.
Tremendous changes are seen when high schools push back the start time.
“Academic improvements have been shown, and overall school climate has been measurably improved when high schools have restored later start times,” according to SSL. “Teachers have commented extensively about the improvement in the classroom environment when students are more alert, less moody, and less likely to sleep in class.”
When school hours are moved to a later time, adolescents benefit both academically and emotionally. For every hour of sleep a high school student loses, they feel more sad and hopeless, and there is an increase in teen suicide attempts. Sleep deprived teens are also more at risk for many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. If the school day began at a later time, the likelihood of these occurring would decrease.
“To the naysayers who may think that if schools start later, teens will just stay up late, the truth is, their bedtimes stay the same, but their wake-up times get extended, resulting in more sleep,” said Troxel. “They’re more likely to show up for school; school absences dropped by 25 percent in one district. And they’re less likely to drop out. Not surprisingly, they do better academically.”
Beginning the school day at a later time is a benefit for most students. Not only are they less likely to be sleep deprived, but their academic performance will boost too!