Why do middle and high schools resist starting later so teens aren’t exhausted?

Most parents of a teen can testify their child loves to sleep in the morning. And that affection often conflicts with early starting school schedules, which is why there’s been a great deal of debate over the appropriate first bell for middle and high school.

That debate will be furthered by a report released today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how few schools are heeding the doctors’ advice and the risks associated with teen sleep deprivation.

Do middle and high schools start too early? (AJC file)

Do middle and high schools start too early? (AJC file)

Research shows teens are biologically wired to stay up late and sleep in the mornings. Teens typically stay up until 10 p.m. or later, meaning they should sleep until at least 7 a.m.

Despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, only one in six U.S. public middle and high schools do so.

Why?

The CDC report cites several reasons: The costs associated with changing bus schedules; potential traffic congestion; difficulty in scheduling after-school activities, especially athletics; and lack of education in some communities about the importance of sleep and school start times.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

Adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight; not engage in daily physical activity; suffer from depressive symptoms; engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs; and perform poorly in school. However, insufficient sleep is common among high school students, with less than one third of U.S. high school students sleeping at least 8 hours on school nights.

In a policy statement published in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged middle and high schools to modify start times as a means to enable students to get adequate sleep and improve their health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life. AAP recommended that “middle and high schools should aim for a starting time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m.”

Among an estimated 39,700 public middle, high, and combined schools in the United States, the average start time was 8:03 a.m. Overall, only 17.7 percent of these public schools started school at 8:30 a.m. or later.

The percentage of schools with 8:30 a.m. or later start times varied greatly by state, ranging from 0 percent in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming to more than three quarters of schools in Alaska (76.8 percent) and North Dakota (78.5 percent). A school system start time policy of 8:30 a.m. or later provides teenage students the opportunity to achieve the 8.5–9.5 hours of sleep recommended by AAP and the 8–10 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

Parents can help their children practice good sleep hygiene (i.e., habits that help promote good sleep). A regular bedtime and rise time, including on weekends, is recommended for everyone, whether they are children, adolescents, or adults. In addition, adolescents with parent-set bedtimes usually get more sleep than those whose parents do not set bedtimes. Adolescents who are exposed to more light (such as room lighting or from electronics) in the evenings are less likely to get enough sleep. Technology use (e.g., computers, video gaming, or mobile phones) might also contribute to late bedtimes and parents might consider implementing a “media curfew” or removing these technologies from the bedroom. Finally, parents might benefit themselves and their children by setting a good example. Adolescent sleep habits tend to reflect their parents’ sleep habits.

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Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

This is really simple.  Give your kids an appropriate bed time and stick to it.  Believe it or not, parents actually get to make the rules.

I get that. We're fortunate, having a teenage kid who does tend to want to turn in early--like nineish--when tired, and often gets a decent night's sleep before awaking at 6am. However (and Wascat touched on this below), there is little a parent can do* if extracurricular activities, including those made available by the school itself, like practices and such, run past bedtime. The schedules are disruptive, and yeah, it'd make sense to try to get the start times delayed a bit at minimum.

Unless we want to ignore what the really smart people have learned, which would be pretty typical for us Exceptional Americans.

-----

* yeah, a parent can yank a kid from those activities. But then that's one less nice thing to have on a college app a high schooler can brag about, so...

panthergir88
panthergir88

We moved from Gwinnett to Forsyth.  I thought the high school start time in Gwinnet was crazy.  I remember high school students waiting for the bus before 7:00.  In Forsyth, the elementary schools have the earliest start times.  High school starts around 8:25 (I think) and middle school starts around 9:00.  I'm pleased with those start times.  My younger child just started his senior year and neither of my kids seem to think the high school start time was too early.


My sister-in-law lives in a suburb of Cincinnati.  In their school district, as the students get older, their school start time gets progressively earlier.  We have had conversations about how screwed up that is.

Astropig
Astropig

Atomic Energy

Mainframe Computers

Helicopters

Jet Planes

Mid Range supercomputers

Interplanetary Exploration

6 Trips to the moon

Personal Computers

Reality TV


...All accomplished with the school schedule that we now have in existence.

class80olddog
class80olddog

But don't forget that some students have to get up early enough to eat breakfast at school.  More welfare disguised as education spending.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@oh Pleese @class80olddog I believe Jesus told US to feed the hungry, not tax everybody else and use school funds to feed the hungry.  And there is a difference in the hungry because they CAN'T get food, and those who WON'T get food.  It is a thousand times worse when a parent who HAS food won't give it to their kids.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@oh Pleese @class80olddog So if there is a rich person who is hungry because he refuses to spend his money on food, do you believe Jesus would ask us to feed him?  I don't believe He would.

straker
straker

When I was in school, years ago, it always started at 8:30 and we always got out at 3:00.


I don't remember any problems with scheduling after school activities, bus schedules or lack of education.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@straker Parents would complain bitterly if their babysitting did not start till 8:30!

PJ25
PJ25

This is really simple.  Give your kids an appropriate bed time and stick to it.  Believe it or not, parents actually get to make the rules. 

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@Outer Marker By the time a kid is in middle school, he's up later than his parents anyway.  Your precious rule is unenforceable.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@class80olddog @RichardKPE @Outer Marker Downfall of society?  And are you really equating a bedtime for a highschooler with gang membership?


Every parent is going to pick and choose their battles.  If they want to choose bedtime for a 15-year-old and fight against the kid and biology, be my guest.  I'll stick to things that are more worth the effort.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@class80olddog @RichardKPE @Outer Marker


My siblings and I always went to bed when we were expected to... no question.  Of course we did not have all the distractions of multimedia - but I suspect our parents would have simply taken away our cell phones and computers at night if it were a problem, just like they did not allow us to have TVs in our rooms.


There is unenforceable, and there is "my kid does not respect me enough to follow my rules."  Maybe for some kids this really is a battle not worth fighting, (which may be the case for RichardK)  but to suggest that is true of ALL kids rather suggest someone who just doesn't want to deal with it, and thus prefers to think it "unenforceable."

class80olddog
class80olddog

@RichardKPE @Outer Marker "Your precious rule is unenforceable"

In that statement is the downfall of society.

Teenage pregnancy - your precious rule is unenforceable.

Drunken teens - your precious rule is unenforceable.

Teen gang membership - your precious rule is unenforceable.

Sexting on cell phones - your precious rule is unenforceable.

And yet, good parents are enforcing these standards everywhere.  They are only unenforceable for parents who have ceded control to their children.

Concerned_1
Concerned_1

This research along with other notable studies should be taken even further to discuss the actual class schedules in middle schools. There is a huge difference between a 6th grader and an 8th grader. The circadian clock shifts as children move into their teen years. For this reason, 6th graders would benefit the most from having their core academic classes at the earliest part of the school day ending it with connections/exploratory classes while 8th graders would benefit from just the opposite. While it may not be convenient or what many teachers want, what's best for the students should dictate class scheduling.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Unfortunately, many parents depend on middle and high schoolers to watch after younger students, so they need their schools to follow a similar schedule.  In addition, many parents allow or encourage their children to participate in too many after school activities (but even one, such as football, can take up a great deal of time.)  Finally, parents have to resume authority over their teens, which means cutting off the distractors after supper so homework and bedtime can be completed earlier.  Teaching self-discipline is one of the most important things a parent can do.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Also might add that bus scheduling plays a major role in many areas. Not so where I live: all ages ride the bus together, so start and end times vary only by minutes.

jaggar1
jaggar1

All districts should swap the high school and middle school start times. High school should be the last start time of 9:15 and middle school at 8:30. It still leaves plenty of time for sport practices to begin at 4:30-6:30. In addition, school should not start in the beginning of August but after Labor Day so it isn't so hot. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@jaggar1  We will never go back to starting school after Labor Day.  It is not PC to do so.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@liberal4life @class80olddog @jaggar1 What is the magic about Memorial Day - I remember starting after Labor Day and ending on June 6 when I was in school.  Of course we didn't have fall break and winter break and a lot of other "teacher in-service days".  We DID have spring break and Christmas - New Year break

What is PC is that teachers are pushing for "year-round schooling" in the hopes that a shorter summer break will result in less "forgetting" of stuff the students never really learned in the first place.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@popacorn @class80olddog @liberal4life @jaggar1


Some students need additional repeated exposure and practice of skills to master them well... they tend to be your marginal students.  Those are the ones who lose the most over the summer and would benefit from a year round school year. Some kids learn to read very quickly.  Some take much longer.  That does not mean they cannot learn, but they need more repetition and remediation than others.  Also, stronger students tend to have parents who continue their education over the summer break.  Marginal students often get no type of academic enrichment during the summer and thus are more likely to slide... it is a vicious circle.  The students who would benefit them most from summer support are the least likely to get it.


But yeah, I am sure it is all the teachers' fault that Johnny requires more academic support and gets no additional practice at home.

booful98
booful98

@liberal4life @class80olddog @jaggar1 We've been having 180 day of school for ever. How is it now possible that we can't fit them in? Perhaps because we did not have 16 week long breaks in between.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Football practice in the late Summer and Fall, basketball practice in the late Fall and Winter as well as baseball practice in the late Winter and Spring are the causes? Am I right or wrong? 

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

Our middle school starts at 9:05, which is just perfect. 

They do complain about getting home late (dismissal at 4:05), but it's not much trouble getting them up in the morning.

Jen14213
Jen14213

Clayton County is switching start times for Middle and High Schools this year.  High School with start at 8:50, Middle is 8:15.