The Pros and Cons of Starting School Later

Delayed start times could prevent teens from falling asleep in class.
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If you've ever had trouble getting your teen up in the morning or you've seen teens fall asleep during the school day, you're not alone. Many adolescents struggle to wake up early and it's sparked a discussion about the pros and cons of starting school later. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a statement urging school districts to consider later start times for teens so adolescents can get adequate sleep.

.But, many districts say changing the time school starts isn't feasible. 

Why Doctors Say High School Should Start Later

The AAP’s Adolescent Sleep Working Group reviewed studies involving inadequate sleep in teens. Researchers analyzed the harmful effects sleep deprivation—anything less than 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep on school nights—can have on young people.

They concluded that poor sleep is linked to increased reliance on caffeine, and tobacco and alcohol. They also discovered a link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance.

It may seem as though the issue could be solved by sending teens to bed at a more reasonable hour. But, researchers say that isn't a viable solution.

Teens experience hormonal shifts that make falling asleep earlier difficult—if not impossible. Their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep at 8 p.m., even when they’re tired.

Studies have shown that simply delaying school by 30 minutes can have a dramatic impact on a teen’s health and performance.

So most researchers recommend school start times be delayed until at least 8:30 a.m. for teenagers. 

The Reasons Many Districts Aren’t Changing Start Times

Despite the recommendation from the AAP, it appears the majority of school districts aren’t planning to change their start times. School officials often cite logistical concerns about starting the school day later.

Delaying high school start times could pose problems with bus schedules, after school activities, and sporting events for the entire district. Delaying the high school start time could have a domino effect on all the schools that could pose a logistical nightmare.

The Pros of Delaying School Start Times

Proponents of delayed school start times report some of the benefits could include:

  • Teens may be more likely to get the recommended amount of sleep. 
  • A delayed start time could help teens sleep during their natural sleep/wake cycles.
  • Teens may be less likely to depend on caffeine to stay awake during the day.
  • Adequate sleep could help teens be more alert during the school day, which could boost their academic performance.
  • Sleeping longer could reduce health-related issues that accompany sleep deprivation.
  • Getting home later in the afternoon may reduce the amount of time some teens are home alone, and could decrease the likelihood teens will engage in unhealthy activities.

The Cons of Delaying School Start Times

Critics of delayed start times offer these concerns:

  • Delaying junior high or high school start times would likely impact the schedule for all schools within a district.
  • Teens would get out of school later in the afternoons, which could pose problems for teens who provide childcare to younger siblings.
  • Students who participate in sports and extra-curricular activities would get home much later in the evenings.
  • Teens may stay up even later if they don't have to wake for school at an earlier time.

What Can Parents Do

Support your teen in getting plenty of high quality sleep. Teach your teen about appropriate sleep hygiene. Establish a reasonable bedtime and keep your teen on a consistent schedule even on weekends and school vacations. 

Limit your teen’s screen time before bed. Studies have shown it interferes with sleep. 

If you feel strongly that your child’s health and academic life are being disrupted by a lack of sleep, advocate for your child.

Share your concerns with school officials. Attend school board meetings and discuss the issue with other parents. You may be able to gain enough support to create change.

Sources

The American Academy of Pediatrics. School start times for adolescents. AAP Gateway.  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1697. August, 2014.

National Sleep Foundation. Eight Major Obstacles to Delaying School Start Times. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/eight-major-obstacles-delaying-school-start-times

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