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Later School Start Times For Teens

As many American teenagers are beginning middle school and high school, more homework is starting to pile up and extracurriculars after school are beginning. Take sports for example, on average they are 2 hours long whether they are right after school or at 6:30 at night. When students get home after practice, there is still homework to do which takes about 30 min. to 2/3 hours depending on the subject. By the time students eat dinner, shower, and begin homework it is around 9 o’clock. This leaves little to no room for the full 8 hours of sleep if students are studying for hours and planning to wake up at 6:30 the next morning.

In the article, “Sleepless No More In Seattle — Later School Start Time Pays Off For Teens,” Patti Neighmond introduces the idea that schools should have a later start time in order for students to get that extra half an hour to an hour more of shut-eye.

For example schools in Seattle recently made the change for middle and high schools to start at 8:45 rather than 7:50 a.m in the 2016-2017 school year. Even though this shift required the rescheduling of extracurricular activities and bus routes, students were now allowed to sleep in and come to school rested and ready to learn. Researchers from the University of Washington conducted a study that found that those students who had the later start time “got 34 minutes more sleep on average” and “boosted their total nightly sleep from 6 hours and 50 minutes to 7 hours and 24 minutes.” Not only did students get more sleep, it was also recognized that students began to get better grades and received fewer tardies along with being absent less because there was no excuse for staying home or being late because one did not get enough sleep.

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Similarly, Horacio de la Iglesia, a researcher and a biology professor at the University of Washington, stated that "to ask a teen to be up and alert at 7:30 a.m. is like asking an adult to be active and alert at 5:30 a.m." No one wants to do that.

Many studies were conducted to test the different start times and which one would have the greatest positive effect on a students mental health.

In one study, researchers compared two groups of students at Roosevelt and Franklin high school who took a biology class. "When they started at 7:50 a.m. there would always be stragglers who were having a hard time getting here," says Cindy Jatul, one of the biology teachers at Roosevelt High School. It was seen that students who took the class in the morning were less alert and engaged in the lesson compared to those who took the same class with the same curriculum later on in the day.

In addition, Franklin High School science teacher A.J. Katzaroff says "there was lots of yawning" when school started at 7:50 a.m. It was noticeable that it was harder to focus on class discussions and activities because the student’s brain was not fully awake. After the time switched from a 7:50 to an 8:45 start time, students were more engaged and willing to come to school ready to learn on time.

Neighmond acknowledged that students need time to wake their brain up, so let’s let them. It is understandable that there may be some drawbacks for parents that need to get to work early in the morning, but for those who do get that extra half an hour of sleep will be more engaged and on time to class and all and all get better grades.

Many might think that when school starts later, teens will just stay up later, but instead, students will take advantage of the extra time to sleep. When it comes to sleep every minute counts.

If you have questions about teen development and the effects of later sleep times, please contact us. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.

-Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

References

Neighmond, Patti. “Sleepless No More In Seattle — Later School Start Time Pays Off For Teens.” NPR News. Your Health. Web. 12 Dec. 2018.
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/12/676118782/sleepless-no-more-in-seattle-later-school-start-time-pays-off-for-teens