School start times: Why teens are so sleepy
Let the kids sleep, said Scott Maxwell in the Orlando Sentinel. Nationally, nearly 9 out of 10 high schools begin classes before 8:30 a.m., and 10 percent before 7:30, forcing tired teens to get out of bed without sufficient sleep. Here in Orange County, Fla., “buses pick up kids more than an hour before dawn” and classes start at 7:20 a.m. This early-bird schedule flies in the face of findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics that 87 percent of America’s high school students are chronically sleep deprived, and that high schools and middle schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. This is “hardly a trivial matter,” said the Jacksonville, Fla., Times-Union in an editorial. Research shows that “teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight and depressed” and to smoke, drink and use drugs, and do poorly in school. Teenagers’ “biological bedtime” is around midnight, “and it just makes no sense to fight Mother Nature.”
There is no disputing the benefits of adequate sleep, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. What’s “less clear” is that forcing California high schools to start later than 8:30 and middle schools later than 8, as a bill now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk proposes, is the path to achieving that goal. One study found that later start times might mean just an additional “15 or 20 minutes per night” of sleep. Another study found that teens got “significantly more sleep the first year of a schedule change” but then started going to bed later by the second. And since the buses that transport older kids also ferry elementary school students in most districts, moving back high school start times would require moving up the start time of younger kids. More research is needed.
Enough study, said The Press of Atlantic City in an editorial. Since the AAP’s 2014 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, “and just about every other credible medical science organization” have come out in support of later start times. The Brookings Institution found that later school start times were followed by “a significant increase” in test scores. One New Jersey school district moved all start times to 8:30 and found “reduced absenteeism and lateness, and teachers reported students were more alert and ready to learn.” The evidence is in, and it leads to only one conclusion: “Start school later.” ■