Are School Start Times Too Early?

It has been a debate for the better part of 20 years now – should school start later to allow for children, and specifically teenagers to get more sleep? While the arguments from either side are relatively straightforward, the issue is not. Are our children going through this incredibly important developmental stage in life sleep-deprived? If school gets pushed back then what happens to extra-curricular activities that are so crucial to a child’s happiness and health? Both sides are made up of sound points, but seeing as you are reading about this issue here, I will explore it within the terms I understand: sleep.

When children are young they are easily able to fall asleep relatively early, and wake up earlier in the morning, but as children move into young adulthood biological processes cause a shift in their sleeping patterns. During their teen years it is natural for students to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 at night, and some have trouble getting to sleep even then. Taking this sleep cycle into account, the next part of the equation is the necessary amount of sleep for proper brain function during this developmental stage in a child’s life. Teenagers require an average of 81/2 hours of sleep each and every night to awake well-rested and ready to take on a day at school, followed by any number of extra-curricular activities in which they participate. Assuming a student can get to sleep by 11:00pm, eight-and-a-half hours of sleep bring you to 7:30am; a common start time for high schools all across the United States.

With the vast majority of high school students not fulfilling their body’s required amount of sleep, America’s high schools often resemble a scene from a bad zombie movie with students lumbering from class to class, eyelids drooping, and in an irritable state. Considering the fact that sleep deprivation has been strongly linked with an inability to learn, it would appear that we are setting our children up for failure with school start times being so early. Many schools have started experimenting with later start times to varying degrees of success in terms of Standardized Testing Scores, but no data has emerged pointing towards a nationwide switch, so I’ll put it up to you: Are later school start times imperative to the schooling of our nation’s youth?