Despite Proven Benefits, Starting School Later Remains a ‘Tough Shell’

Maya Smith, Reporter

Walk around a high school on any day of the school week and the most common phrases you will encounter coming from teens are, “I’m so tired!” “I didn’t get any sleep,” “I really just want to go to sleep.” Sleep is a common topic in most high schools, as well as why no one ever gets enough of it. There’s a reason teens tend to fall asleep during classes, and it’s not always because they are bored by the material. Often times the truth is simply that they can’t stay awake. Sleep deprivation is common among teenagers and can have dangerous effects on brain development as well as effecting the mental capabilities and understanding of the afflicted teens. A study from 2014 by the University of Minnesota surveyed over 9,000 students and proved that starting schools later has vast benefits for students and schools alike. But the switch to start schools later has yet to happen everywhere.

Of all the schools in the United States, only 17.7% start at a time of 8:30 a.m. or later, and 75-100% of schools in 42 states start before 8:30 a.m. It is a well researched fact that teenagers need at least 8 ½ to 9 hours – the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, actually recommends 9-10 hours – of sleep a night; however the majority of teens get, on average, fewer than 7 hours of sleep by the end of high school. This lack of sleep can have serious affects, professionals claim: “adolescents who don’t get enough sleep have an increased risk of being overweight, suffering depression, and struggling academically.” Yet less than one third of U.S. students get at least 8 hours of sleep on school nights.

“’Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,’ said Dr. Judith Owens, author of the AAP policy statement. ’Delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.’” The reason behind why the majority of schools refuse to switch to a later start time is a mystery to much of the adolescent population. It would be difficult at first of course, but the benefits would be well worth it. Later start times would mean an increase in academic performance, thereby boosting school ratings and test scores. As well as a decrease in depression, violent behavior, and physical ailments among teenagers. It is a simple fact that changing the school schedule to allow for the biology of adolescents would be extremely beneficial, but schools are refusing to make the change.

Most of the concerns raised related to sleep deprivation in adolescents has been brushed off by schools and parents as simply teen behavior, laziness and a general indifference. They are quick to blame teens, if they would just go to bed earlier, concentrate harder in school, and focus their energy on improving. But researchers have reported that schools are ignoring the biology of teenagers, “the teenage body is nocturnal,” this quote by Dr. Denise Pope of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success is a validation of just how different teenagers sleep schedules are from adults. Teenagers are more likely to stay up late and wake up late, it’s a natural shift that occurs in adolescence, and it’s being ignored by the schooling systems. Even when changing the time schools start from 7:40 to 8:30 a.m. would make a huge difference.

“’Changing schools is hard, and getting schools to start as late as 9:00 or 9:30, when teenage bodies are actually only waking up, would be a tough sell,’ says Pope.  ‘But the best thing is to take it slow and look at how changing schedules affects everyone. It’s not just the students. It’s teachers, bus drivers, everyone at school, and especially parents [.]’” It is understood by most teens that changing the school start time is a significant shift, however, is it so significant that it’s impossible? I would disagree, it isn’t being done and there are schools that are managing the change. Those are the schools that are enjoying the benefits the later start times afford. The rest just need to catch up.