The Case for Later Start Times

By Emet Jewett (photo Janae Moore)

March 25, 2020

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American teens aren’t getting enough sleep. That’s according to the Sleep Foundation, which states that only 15% of students report sleeping eight and a half hours (the CDC recommended amount1) every school night.2 With even distance learning now starting at 8 a.m., it is time to reconsider the traditional 8-2:31 (or in this case, 8-3:30) schedule.

Not only is sleep deprivation bad for academic performance, but students who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have issues in their mental, emotional, and physical health. A study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that reduced sleep was associated with “…attention, behavior, and learning problems” as well as an increased risk of “accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, depression, … self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.3

It is important to examine what is causing so many teens to not get enough sleep. First, circadian rhythms (the hormonal cycles that tell you when to go to bed and when to get up) shift later as students enter adolescence. This is why, according to the Australian Department of Social Services, young children begin to feel tired and go to bed around 7:30 p.m.4, while teens begin to feel tired and go to bed much later, at around 11 p.m.5.

However, natural rhythms are not the only reason teens stay up too late. According to Classical High School’s own Dr. Shapiro, school policy expects students to receive 45 minutes of homework per core class per night. With AP classes, this standard is increased to 90 minutes per class per night. Assuming a student takes no AP courses, expected time spent on school (during school hours and at home) during the week is an absurd 50 hours per week. If a student takes two AP courses, then the expected time spent on school increases to 59 hours per week! This is almost one and a half times the expected workload of a full time job. These estimates do not include extracurriculars, which are not only important for college, but also for the enjoyment of a student’s time in high school. This workload would be a lot for a working adult, and even more so for teens just beginning their lives.

A common argument against later start and end times is that it would cause students to go to sleep later, and they would therefore not gain any sleep. However, when a group of high schoolers were forced to start an hour earlier, the time they went to sleep did not change. It remained constant at around 10:40 p.m.6 So would a move to later start times affect student sleep? The science is simple: the circadian rhythms of teens means they go to bed later, no matter when they get out of school. A later start time would not change this.

Students are not going to go to bed earlier. Our circadian rhythms make us stay up later, and our homework load is large. However, this does not mean we need to be sleep deprived. With the switch to online school, it is easier than ever to move start and end times of school around—in fact, the school department has already done it! They extended lunch, giving us two hours in the middle of the day, and pushing the end time to 3:30. Why not make the start time slightly later, perhaps to 8:30, as the science recommends, and improve student sleep?

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html 

  2. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/teens-and-sleep 

  3. https://aasm.org/resources/pdf/pediatricsleepdurationconsensus.pdf 

  4. https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/sleep/understanding-sleep/school-age-sleep 

  5. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/teens-and-sleep 

  6. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/backgrounder-later-school-start-times 

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