From the Experts: This is Why School Start Times Should be Delayed

August 19th, 2019

It’s nearly back to school time for many children and teens around the world.  With back to school comes new schedules and routines, but for some, the early morning wake-up could be impacting their ability to learn and perform their best. Early school start times can be challenging on children, particularly those in their teens. Why is that? The SleepScore Labs experts explore the issue and the direction they’d like to see the future of school start times go.  

What kind of sleep do children need? 

As children age, they need not only different amounts of sleep, but also different sleep schedules, based on their circadian rhythms 

“Teens, in particular, have a delayed circadian rhythm,” notes SleepScore Labs advisor Dr. Nate Watson. “This means they don’t get tired until late in the evening, somewhere around 11 pm or even later.”  

Because of this delay, teens need to sleep in so they can get their recommended 8-10 hours of healthy sleep each night.  

“Many people think teens are lazy because they want to sleep in, but in reality, their biological clocks are calling the shots,” continues Dr. Watson.  

How are kids impacted by early school start times? 

If teens need to be in school and ready to learn by 7:30 am, but their bodies aren’t ready for bed until 11 pm or later, there’s just not enough time for them to get adequate sleep. To add insult to injury, many school districts schedule their busing system to pick up high schoolers first, followed by elementary school kids, causing teens to wake up even earlier to catch the bus.  

SleepScore Labs Senior Researcher Dr. Sharon Danoff-Burg adds, “Research has shown that earlier school start times can hinder students’ learning abilities, negatively impact their physical and mental health, and can even impair their safety behind the wheel.1  Research also suggests that later school start times can improve attendance, reduce motor vehicle crashes, and decrease sleepiness in class.” 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 8:30 am as a better school start time, to help reduce some of these effects and allow children and teens to arrive at school refreshed and alert.  

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Many people think teens are lazy because they want to sleep in, but in reality, their biological clocks are calling the shots.

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What’s standing in the way of changing these start times? 

There’s not an easy answer to this question. 

“Much of it has to do simply with a lack of awareness,” says Watson. “But because these start times are decided by individual school districts, it can be challenging to set forth a standardized time.” 

There are also the parents to consider, too.  

Some of it might also have to do with scheduling the day in a convenient way for both parent and child. Later school times might also impact the time that the parents will show up at their jobs”, SleepScore Labs VP of Sleep Science and Scientific Affairs, Dr. Raymann, adds. 

Along with the challenges that parents face, other important factors need to be considered, such as bus schedules, sports practice schedules after school, and other similar needs. 

Legislation woes 

Back in 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would mandate 8:30 am school start times statewide, citing the policy would be better determined by local school boards  

Even so, some schools are taking the matter into their own hands. Three schools in San Diego will pilot a delayed school start time schedule, with start times varying anywhere from 8:35 a.m. and 9:05 a.m.  

In addition, revised bill will soon be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee in California, known as the later school start bill, so legislation delaying school start times systemwide in California remains alive.  

There’s even a petition circulating to help boost awareness and conversation around the topic.

 How can I help my child get the sleep they need?  

Sticking to healthy sleep hygiene is always a great starting point. This can include: 

  • Keeping a consistent bedtime and implementing a bedtime routine 
  • Making sure your child has regular activity and sunlight during the day 
  • Ensuring their bedroom is cooldark, and quiet  
  • Reducing screen time in the evening to avoid blue light, which can make them feel too alert in the evening  

If you’re looking for a way to gradually adjust their sleep schedule to prepare for going back to school, try getting the kiddos to bed fifteen minutes earlier each night in the weeks leading up to the first day.  

What do you think of school start times? Should kids start school a bit later? Tweet us @sleepscore and let us know your thoughts!  

Sources: 
NF Watson, JL Martin, MS Wise, et al. AASM Position Statement: School Start Times Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2017 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4824552/ 
https://aasm.org/aasm-position-delaying-middle-school-high-school-start-times-is-beneficial-to-students/ 
https://edsource.org/2018/rejecting-one-size-fits-all-approach-california-governor-vetoes-later-school-start-time-bill/602602 
https://www.sandiegounified.org/healthy-start-times 
https://edsource.org/2019/revised-bill-proposes-later-school-start-times-for-california-middle-high-school-students/616181 

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