Any parent will tell you that getting teenagers out of bed and to school on time is a challenge. During high school, I hit snooze at least five times a morning, and all the parental nagging in the world wasn’t enough to get me out of bed in a timely manner. Sound familiar? Biologically, teenagers’ bodies are inclined to fall asleep later in the evening and to wake up later in the morning than younger children or adults. Unfortunately, this biological rhythm does not sync well with the traditionally early start time of high school classes, and serious sleep deprivation is a common result. Experts say, on average, teenagers need nine and a quarter hours of sleep a night to function effectively during the day. However, most teenagers are lucky to squeeze in seven hours on a week night. Sleep-deprived students come to school drowsy and distracted rather than ready to learn and participate. By simply pushing back the start time of classes, high schools can get in step with teenagers’ natural sleep rhythms and enjoy the benefits of well-rested students.
Although the benefits of later start times in high schools have been studied since the early 1990s, few high schools have actually pushed back the start of the school day. However, those that have made the leap report significant, measurable benefits, including improved student attendance, less tardiness and fewer visits to the school nurse. Certainly, the logistics of changing a school’s start time can be complicated. Less after-school time for sports practices and extracurricular activities, as well as transportation challenges for parents and school districts can be expected. In the long run, though, handling these inconveniences may well be worth the positive effect on the quality of students’ lives.
Select districts in Minnesota and Kentucky have noted significant improvements in student alertness and effectiveness by pushing back their high school start times by about an hour. In Kentucky, high schoolers in Fayette County got into 16% fewer car accidents when they started their school days at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30. In Minneapolis, later start times translated into higher grades and a decrease in lateness, behavioral problems and dropout rates.
To read more about the science of teenagers’ sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website. And for more success stories from schools with later-than-usual start times, follow the links below:
Does your school operate on a schedule designed specifically to benefit students? Do you think that starting school an hour later would improve the quality of life for your high school students?