Benefits of Later School Start Times

“There’s no sound more dreadful than the shrill scream of a morning alarm clock, especially when you have a stressful day ahead–and got what felt like minutes of sleep the night before” (“Should Schools”). During the week, the early start of school is a key reason why students wake up when they do. The mixture of late bedtimes and school starting early results in most children and teens not getting adequate sleep.

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Some believe that a later start time will increase test scores and overall health; others argue that delaying start times will create issues, causing a domino effect on school districts. Some say that a later start disrupts after-school sports. Schools starting later could lead to schools ending later, thus causing conflicts with the timing of bus schedules or after-school activities.

However, making the necessary changes in district schedules would cause positive long term effects in students’ academics and test scores. Research supports that today’s youth is not getting the recommended amount of natural sleep due to the time they are expected at school (Panizzi). In order to reduce health issues and raise their students’ academic success, schools should have later start times. Students would benefit from higher quality sleep if they were given a chance to start later in the day. According to the head of Pediatric Sleep Research, when students or children get the recommended sleep at night, their performance in school improves (Fitzsimmons).

Adequate sleep increases focus, which gives more time to comprehend and process information in their surrounding environments. Most teens sleep in on the weekends to make up for lost sleep on school days. This may seem like a logical way to solve the sleep issue, but it actually causes inconsistent sleep patterns which leads to drowsiness – especially in the beginning of the following week. Additionally, research has proven that when people think they are catching up on sleep during the weekend, it actually has a reverse effect and slows down the body’s ability to problem solve and react (“Should Schools”). Due to issues surrounding the effects of sleep deprivation, students are sometimes late or absent from school. Chronic absenteeism contributes to drop-out rates.

“Starting the high school day a little later is associated with higher rates of attendance and ultimately graduation” (“School Schedules”). When school start times match better with adolescent sleep patterns, better attendance will reduce dropout rates. Proper sleep is important for human well-being, especially as a teenager. Fitzsimmons explains that teenagers require between 8-11 hours of sleep. Because the body produces hormones later at night, it makes it more difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. (“Should Schools”). Therefore, starting school early in the morning does not allow students to get the amount of rest needed. Teens who do not get enough sleep are likely to display negative side effects which include mood swings, irritability, laziness, and depression. These behaviors will then carry into their choices after school. Getting the recommended amount of sleep can help manage these side effects.

Additionally, starting school earlier in the day results in arriving home earlier in the day. When a student experiences behavioral side effects from lack of sleep and waking up too early, having more time after school could lead to even further problems. Some common problems include being home without adult supervision or spending extended time on social media. Therefore, getting home later in the day cuts back on the amount of time that some adolescents are home alone, which lessens the possibility that they could make poor choices in their downtime. Starting school later in the day allows adequate sleep during the expert recommended hours, which would minimize negative health, behavioral and academic side effects in a student.

Similarly, students will struggle with academic success because sleep deprivation impacts their overall health. A later start to the school day would provide adequate sleep, which is beneficial for students to maintain a balanced, healthy life. Because children and teens are still growing, they are not designed to be morning people (“Boston to Allow”). Additionally, experts say there is a strong connection between car accidents and early risers. When teen drivers are awake earlier and longer than experts recommend, they are not mentally alert nor prepared to have the responsibility of driving a car (“Should School”).

To emphasize the correlation to early risers and health issues, the pediatric academy has recommended that school starting times should not be before 8:30. Lack of sleep also leads to a weakened immune system, causing students to be more susceptible to viruses and germs. However, health problems from lack of sleep go beyond catching a cold or flu. As previously mentioned, both physical and mental wellness can be affected. These issues extend to depression, mood changes, diabetes and weight problems (“School Schedules”). Because exceptional sleep is needed for physical and emotional health, lack of sleep affects appetite and eating behaviors. Students are either late to school because they rush with breakfast, or they skip breakfast because they are running late.

Furthermore, students who depend on caffeine or other stimulants for drowsiness might be at risk of alcohol or drug dependency later in life. With more sleep, students have fewer illnesses, better mental health, longer attention spans and a lower risk of being in vehicle accidents (Herrington). Sleep plays an important role in the long-term learning required for academics in adolescents. Anyone who has been to school can attest to the fact that a good night’s sleep is beneficial to learning. Successful learning involves remembering previously learned information as well as learning new information. A study in Connecticut proved that adequate sleep has a positive impact on learning and academics. Researchers revealed that after a later start time was implemented in numerous schools, the average graduation rate rose from 79 percent to 88 percent. Additionally, the average attendance rate increased from 90 percent to 94 percent. These percentages climbed within a two year time span after schools pushed back the time (“School Schedules”).

Another study done by the National Sleep Foundation showed that students who got the recommended hours of sleep had higher standardized test scores (“Should School”). When it comes down to the choice between education for a career or having good health, there should not have to be a decision at all, both are equally important. Negative effects from early starts to school all affect student performance in learning, including effort, attention, memory, and behavior. Research clearly points to the fact that getting more sleep has a “positive impact on teens academic performance” (Panizzi). Mastery of curriculum in both elementary and middle school is necessary as the foundation for success in high school courses. Once a child is in high school, their grades and test scores are used towards college acceptance and further opportunities. Simply put, more sleep results in students performing better in school, which drastically affects their future.

The controversy about teen sleep patterns and school start time is not a new debate. Although it proves to have many lifelong benefits, some people think that changing the time could cause some issues. Opponents say that “a later start … interferes with some teens’ part time jobs and disrupts after-school sports and clubs” (Herrington). While after-school jobs and activities are important, if an entire county or district made the change to the school schedule, it would force everything in that same area to adjust accordingly. School sports and extracurricular clubs automatically work around student schedules, which is why they should be the last of any concerns. Additionally, if it became the norm that schools start later in the morning, all activities would most likely not object to working around a student schedule. It is concerning that someone would be concerned about soccer practice more than receiving quality education, which shows a need for overall awareness to promote education as a priority. Once awareness is raised, a community would realize that everyone learns better when they are awake and alert.

It would initially take some time to find a solution, but the real problem in the end would be a lack willingness to make the change. Although most would see the overriding benefits on changing the start time of school, transportation and childcare stresses are a secondary concern. The overall effect on the entire community has been a concern in many school districts. In order for schools to start later, bus stops would have to be combined and the time frame to pick up students would have to be split in half (Panizzi). Although this means that the district would need to buy more busses as well as space to store the busses (Herrington), bussing should not play a role in a student’s ability to focus and receive an affective education. Others voice concern that a school schedule change would affect traffic patterns and affect the morning drive for commuters.

This should be a minor concern for this day and age, as traffic patterns are constantly changing with roads, street lights, neighborhoods and shopping centers constantly being developed. Working parents would also need to find before-school care if their work hours conflict with school start time (“Should Schools”). But among these concerns, it seems that the true issue at hand is people’s failure to acknowledge and address the fact that a child’s education affects the future of everyone. Implementing problem solving skills and using some imagination are small prices to pay for the long term benefits that the students will gain. Starting school later in the day improves students’ health, academics and sleep patterns. The main reason adolescents attend school is to learn and achieve satisfactory grades in order to gain further opportunities post-graduation. When the school’s start time is pushed back, students’ grades will improve. Additionally, health plays a large part in education – if students are not healthy, they cannot attend school. By starting school later, the chances of students attending school are greater.

One of life’s basic needs is sleep. When school’s early start time causes kids to lose the recommended time of sleep, it brings many side effects that directly impact their education and their future. If one feels strongly that students’ health and academic life are being disrupted by a lack of sleep, they should advocate for the children and teenagers and share concerns with school and state officials. There needs to be support in order to create change. Some ways to be involved in the change are to attend school board meetings, town meetings and discuss the issue with other parents. In order to prepare today’s youth for the future, schools must start school at a later time in the morning to provide improved academics, health, and sleep. One of today’s biggest topics of debate is about education. Lack of sleep and starting school too early cause stress in this highly debated topic.

“Even doctors feel our pain, urging schools to allow for extra slumber” (“Should Schools”). Between high stakes test anxiety, drop out rates, health issues and deaths from car accidents, everyone should want to do what they can to help today’s exhausted students. That ear-splitting sound of an alarm clock may be less daunting if more school districts followed the advice of health professionals.

Works Cited

  1. “Boston to Allow 10 Schools to Switch to Later Start Times.” Education Week, 9 Mar. 2007, p. 1.
  2. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/ doc/A163813730/OVIC?u=land18748&sid=OVIC&xid=42368ee2. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
  3. Herrington, Lisa M. “Should School Start Later?” Junior Scholastic/Current Events.
  4. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/ A397264878/OVIC?u=land18748&sid=OVIC&xid=29ac1a95. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
  5. Panizzi, Tawnya. “Fox Chapel Area Parents Surveyed on Later High School Start Time.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh, 10 Sept. 2018.
  6. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A553661009/ OVIC?u=land18748&sid=OVIC&xid=3ec5a8fa. Accessed 1 Feb. 2019. “School Schedules;
  7. ‘Delayed High School Start Times Later than 8:30 A.M. and Impact on Graduation Rates and Attendance Rates.'” Education Week, p. 1.
  8. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A490937906/ OVIC?u=land18748&sid=OVIC&xid=854fdcee. Accessed 1 Feb. 2019. “Should Schools Start Later?” Choices/Current Health, Feb. 2016.
  9. Gale Virtual Reference Library, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A450137522/ OVIC?u=land18748&sid=OVIC&xid=3509d7d0. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
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