Why High School Start Times Need To Be Later

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Every morning our alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and we all dread it. This isn’t a form of self-torture; this is what we have to do in order for my kids to get something nutritious in their system, get dressed, and get out the door before the 7:30 am bell rings. They don’t want to get up at this hour, and neither do I, but we don’t have a choice.

But alas, school starts too damn early, so 6 a.m. it is.

This early school start time is not without consequences (and not just my kids’ grumbling). We’re seeing it having an impact on our kids’ health too.

According to 2015 data, as of 2015, 86% of high schools have their first bell ringing before the hour of 8:30, while 1 in 10 start before 7:30 a.m.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics says teens need 8-10 hours a sleep each night which means students with earlier start times should be asleep between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. It sounds like a simple solution, but it’s not.

Getting them to go to bed at that hour is no small task. Believe me, I have three of them and I try and wrestle them to bed every night around 9 p.m. despite the fact it can be difficult for them to fall asleep. This makes total sense, since after puberty, a teen’s brain now works “on a later schedule,” according to an article in Kids Health.

Kids Health goes on to explain that this change in their sleep routine is due to “the brain hormone melatonin” which is produced later at night than it was when they were younger. Pair that with the fact that most high schools start before 8:30 and you have a recipe for disaster.

Lack of sleep can cause serious problems such as anxiety, depression, careless driving, and poor grades. And The National Sleep Foundation found that “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.”

Henry Nicholls, a journalist and high school science teacher penned an essay for The New York Times explaining “Three out of every four students in grades 9 to 12 fail to sleep the minimum of eight hours the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends.” He goes onto say when a teenagers gets up at 6am, it’s equivalent to an adult getting up at 4 a.m. every day. Does that sound appealing to you?

Many health organizations, including the American Medical Association believe schools should start school later (no earlier than 8am). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says school shouldn’t start before 8:30am saying early start times are a cause of “car accidents, depression and poor academic performance.”

When schools have made the transition to a later start time, according to The New York Times “attendance goes up, grades improve and there is a significant reduction in car accidents.”

So, how can we get get our middle and high schools to start at an hour when people actually feel like looking at, and talking to, each other?

Many parents (and students) feel passionately about a later start time and feel helpless, but one person can make a difference. You can start by collecting the data from studies and bringing it to your next school board meeting. You can also join your local school board and be vocal about your reasoning for wanting a later start time.

The results show later starting time equals happier, healthier kids who show up to school more often, not to mention less accidents during the morning commute — all solid reasons to let our teens catch some more sleep during those morning hours.

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