Benefits to Starting School Later

According to the CDC, roughly three-quarters of public middle and high schools start before 8:30 am. However, traditional school schedules don’t account for the natural sleep cycle of children and teens, and 60 percent of children complain of being tired during the school day.

List of the Pros of Starting School Later

1. It could reduce the amount of time kids are left alone.
Teens are often left alone at home at the end of the day because of the working schedules of their parents. That time alone invites the possibility of making decisions that are not necessarily healthy. Starting school later in the morning would create a later release time in the afternoon, which could reduce the amount of time some teens are left on their own.

2. It would reduce health-related issues that come with a lack of sleep.
Sleep deprivation can cause a number of different bothersome symptoms in kids of any age. A loss of sleep disrupts the normal functioning of a child’s attention span. They can struggle to focus on their environment, sensory inputs, and the classroom. A lack of sleep creates a delayed reaction time, irritability, depressed mood, forgetfulness, clumsiness, and trouble learning new concepts.

3. It could reduce caffeine dependence.
Depending on the type of coffee bean being used, a cup of brewed coffee in the morning may have up to 175mg of caffeine in it. That’s more caffeine than some energy drinks provide. Long-term side effects of using caffeine may include severe dehydrations, chronic panic attacks, and high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of caffeine also prevent reabsorption of sodium, which can lead to future medical issues. With a later start time and more sleep, some of these issues could begin to go away.

4. It could boost individual academic performance.
When there is adequate sleeping time available for children, then there is an associated rise in that student’s grades. Not only does this improve the focus of the child, it gives them time to process the information around them in the classroom environment. By removing the stress stimulus from the environment, the cortisol levels can remain at normal levels for the student, reducing the risks of distraction and hyperactivity. In 1998, Dr. Amy Wolfson, Professor of Psychology at Loyola University in Maryland, and Dr. Mary Carskadon, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, found that students with grade averages of C or under were getting 25 fewer minutes of sleep each night compared to students with higher grades.

5. It allows students to cope with their academic responsibilities.
The University of Minnesota discovered that students who have a later start time to their school day have better overall test scores, grades, and consistency in core subject areas compared to students who go to school on a traditional schedule. Students also have improved attendance rates, reduced truancy, and reduced dropout rates when their school responsibilities match better with their biological clocks.

6. It gives students a chance to eat breakfast.
One of the first things that goes away when students are in a rush to get to school is a healthy breakfast. By pushing the start time later in the day, there is a better chance to have time to eat something healthier than a prepackaged breakfast item. Reducing the prevalence of on-the-go eating options can promote a healthier weight and better personal nutrition, which further increases the chances of a positive individual learning experience.

7. It could reduce vehicular accidents for teens.
Many teens drive themselves to school. Waking up too early, without enough sleep the night before, creates an added risk to the driving experience. AAA reports that driver drowsiness is responsible for an average of 100,000 vehicular accidents every year. Moving the start time of school wouldn’t resolve the issue of texting or talking while driving, but it would reduce the issues of driver drowsiness for many teens.

8. It would reduce the number of mood changes teens experience.
Teens are often criticized for their mood swings or moody behavior. Sometimes, these behaviors are associated with depression or some other psychological disorder. In reality, the teen may be suffering from ongoing sleep deprivation. When students (or anyone) gets enough sleep, their mood remains stabilized throughout the day, which encourages a higher level of overall motivation.

9. It would reduce common safety issues for students.
One of the biggest safety issues students face is one that most people don’t think about too often. Early start times for a school, sometimes before 8am, require children to get to school in the dark. They might be waiting at a bus stop in the dark. For younger children, they also have the threat of being home alone after school if there are no daycare or after school options. Starting school at a later time reduces all of these issues, even if it does put more pressure on the morning routine for parents.

Minimized Tardiness and Truancy

A 2016 study looked at eight high schools that delayed their school times from 7:20 am to 8:35 and 8:55 am. They found a significant decrease in truancy and tardiness, with one of the schools citing a 66 percent decrease in tardiness.

Teens should get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night and elementary schoolers need at least 9 to 11 hours per night. However, adolescents typically get about 7 hours of sleep per night, resulting in psychological, educational, and physical drawbacks.

Delayed Circadian Rhythm

Adolescents experience a sleep-phase delay, meaning their sleep is delayed by two or more hours from conventional sleep times, thus making it difficult to wake up at a conventional time. Teens and older adolescents, in particular, have a later melatonin release and shut off, and typically go to sleep at 11 pm or later.

Stress Levels Are Elevated

An increasing number of students are pressured to participate in extracurricular activities to impress colleges, though this takes up a majority of their free time. With extracurricular activities or jobs, students have less time to focus on homework, so they can be up late completing projects or studying for tests. The stress from work and extracurriculars can also leave students wired for hours, making it difficult for them to sleep.

What’s Stopping A Later School Schedule?

While starting school later is seemingly beneficial for young people, it’s reasonable to wonder why so few school districts have implemented these changes. Despite the benefits of a later school schedule, other factors prevent it from becoming a more mainstream practice.

Parents’ Work Schedules

A later school schedule clashes with the average parent’s work schedule, so some parents might be unable to drop off their young children at school or stand at the bus stop with them. If parents have older teens, their younger siblings are left under their care, but then the teens themselves would have little help starting their mornings and getting to school.

Changing School Schedules Requires Community Input

Parents, teachers, school boards, and government officials are just a few of the individuals involved in shifting school times. School schedules impact the entire community, so leaders need to find a common ground beneficial to everyone, and this takes time and resources some communities might not have.

Transportation Costs

Scheduling for buses can become quite difficult if schools start later because school districts typically reuse the same buses for their elementary, middle, and high schools. If buses started traveling during rush hours, student pick-ups and drop-offs would take longer and bus drivers might be unable to get from one school to the next.

Extracurriculars and Jobs

For students who need a job to support themselves or their families, a later start time would inhibit their ability to work as much and earn money. And, if they continued to work despite a later start and end time, they’d have less time to complete homework afterward.

Additionally, later start and end times would push back extracurricular activities, so students would have less time to focus on homework, prioritize their social lives, and sleep well. It’s unlikely students would drop their extracurriculars, especially as there’s an increasing amount of pressure for students to add them to their resume.

What is the average time students wake up for school?

The average start time for schools is 8:30 am, though some start as early as 7 am, and most students wake up roughly 30 minutes to an hour before school. Students who take the bus need to wake up a bit earlier, however, to reach their bus on time.

Should I sacrifice sleep to study?

For some, staying up late or skipping sleep entirely to study for a test or get homework done seems like a good idea, but it’s harmful in the long run. Students who stay up late completing work are more likely to struggle academically the following day, regardless of the time spent studying.

Build a schedule where you can study sufficiently, but still get sufficient sleep for your age. While you shouldn’t study less, it’s more important to prioritize getting quality sleep than staying up to study.

How can I help my child sleep better?

As a parent, it’s stressful watching your child’s health suffer as a result of poor sleep. You can help them by teaching them the importance of sleep hygiene (habits to foster healthy sleep), limiting their electronics usage before bed, setting a bedtime, and incorporating sleep-inducing foods to dinnertime.

Do students get too much homework?

The National Education Association suggests students should do roughly 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. For example, a sixth-grader should have no more than 60 minutes of homework per night. However, teens typically do over three hours of homework per night, especially if they’re in advanced or college prep classes.

Do teachers benefit from starting school later?

Starting school later mainly prioritizes students, however, it’s potentially less stressful for teachers as well. By having more time to sleep, teachers can improve their health and quality of life just as much as students.