Why is a later start time important to our students?
Later start times would coincide with students’ body clocks so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential. Later start times will have a positive effect on students’ academic achievement and physical and mental health. It would also result in teenagers having less unsupervised time in the afternoons, when adolescents may be tempted to engage in risky behaviors.
Why is such an early start time bad for adolescents?
Our teenagers are going to school sleep-deprived, and this is detrimental to learning as well as their physical, mental and emotional health. Sleep research shows that adolescents have a different—and later—sleep cycle than younger children and adults. This is not a matter of habit or lifestyle or stubbornness. It’s a matter of biology and natural circadian rhythms. The hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for a typical teenager to fall asleep until after 11 pm and to wake up and be alert before around 8 am. Making them get up at 6-something in the morning robs them of the deep sleep they need to grow and learn.
Is this true of all teenagers?
No, but it is true for most teenagers. There are some people who are natural “early birds” all their lives, but some kids who are early birds find themselves sleeping later in adolescence.
Is this different circadian rhythm why my teenager sleeps until noon on the weekends?
Yes. Also, many teenagers try to make up for their lack of solid sleep during the school week by sleeping as late as they can on the weekend. This system doesn’t really work, however. It leads to irregular sleep habits and may exacerbate the problem in the long run.
Shouldn’t they just go to bed earlier? Wouldn’t they then be able to get up early and be alert?
No. The circadian rhythms that regulate teenagers’ sleep give them a second burst of wakefulness in the evening. If forced to go to bed earlier than their bodies are telling them to, they may simply stare at the ceiling until their bodies’ melatonin kicks in around 11 pm, enabling them finally to sleep. The melatonin remains in their system, keeping them sleepy until around 8 am.
If they weren’t due at school until later, wouldn’t teenagers just go to bed even later than they do now and get no more sleep than before?
No. Again, research has shown that this is not the case. The Minneapolis school system, concerned about the adverse effect of early start times on its teen students, went from a 7:15 am to an 8:40 am start time for high school students in 1997. A study commissioned by the Minneapolis School Board found that their students went to bed at virtually the same time as before the change and, compared with students at high schools with earlier start times, on average got one hour more sleep per school night.
Other studies have found the same thing whether comparing students before and after a shift to later start times or comparing neighboring school districts with different start times, the results were the same. Students go to bed at about the same time. The students with later start times sleep longer.
Later start times mean better performance in the classroom, on the field, and behind the wheel.
How much sleep does the typical teenager need?
On average, 9 ¼ hours a night.
What are some of the problems associated with this lack of sleep?
Lack of sleep has serious repercussions on teenagers’ physical, mental and emotional health. Sleep deprivation among teens is linked to depression, susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, car and other accidents, stunted growth and even obesity. It also lowers impulse control and reaction times (important for those driving). It negatively affects their ability to think and learn.
Where can I find the research on sleep?
A number of institutions have produced significant research on the detrimental consequences of not getting enough sleep including Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, NIH, the University of Minnesota, School Start Time and the National Sleep Foundation. Some of it we’ve linked to on this Web site (See Research on the Home page). The foremost researchers in the area of sleep agree that teenagers do exhibit later circadian rhythms. Many of them have pointed to early school hours as a major culprit in American teenagers’ sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation is promoting later secondary school times nationwide.
Some kids have to work at after-school jobs. How would that fit in with a later school day?
Teenagers who have after-school jobs are probably the most in need of more sleep. Early morning school hours make it very difficult for some of these high school students with long work hours to stay in school. In a study conducted for Minneapolis-area school systems, high schools going to later start times showed improvements in their rates of continuous enrollment and in attendance rates. http://education.umn.edu/carei/Reports/default.html.
The study, conducted by the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, quoted local employers as saying that later school hours did not affect their businesses or the amount of hours that students were available for work.