Sleepy Teens: More To It Than Getting to Bed Earlier
Significant research shows that the circadian rhythm (or sleep cycle) for humans changes during the adolescent years. While young children typically are naturally wide awake early in the morning, teens biologically struggle with waking early, regardless of the time they go to sleep. Aligning school start times to better fit students' biological rhythms results in improved student performance and success.
children 5-11 years naturally wake early
teens 12-18 years naturally wake later, despite bed times
Times Changes Being Discussed
Elementary schools start times between 7:55-8:25 AM
Middle and high schools start times between 8:30-8:50 AM
The duration of the school day would not be changed. If a school start was 15 later in the day, the school day would end 15 minutes later. If school started 15 minutes earlier the school day would end 15 minutes earlier.
Taking A Look At Sleep Needs for Students
Researchers have studied the effect of delaying start times for high school students and have found that even a modest shift in start times benefits adolescent students. Student benefits include improvements in academic achievement, reduced truancy, and fewer behavioral problems. These studies also indicate that elementary students would not be adversely affected by slightly earlier start times. Numerous national organizations support changing to later start times for adolescents. These include the National Sleep Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Since the 1970s, studies have indicated that sleep patterns change as children grow into adolescence. Research indicates that teenagers need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night, but average fewer than 7 hours. Most adolescents go through a change in sleep patterns with their natural time to fall asleep shifting to 11 p.m. or later. This biological shift in their internal clocks causes them to be alert at typical bedtimes and to have difficulty waking early in the morning. Because they are drowsy in the morning, teens have more trouble:
- being alert in school
- paying attention
- solving problems
- coping with stress
- retaining information.
In addition, sleep deprivation has many other consequences for adolescents including increased accidents from drowsiness; emotional and behavioral problems such as irritability, depression, poor impulse control and violence; health complaints; tobacco and alcohol use; impaired cognitive function and decision-making; and lower overall performance in everything from academics to athletics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. While changing start times has many benefits for adolescent students, there are many complications to implementing the changes. Major issues include alteration of bus transportation schedules; impacts to after school activities; safety concerns with younger children starting school earlier; family stress from altering transportation, meal, and homework schedules; and costs of implementation.
Articles and Stories About Later School Start Times
- NPR Insight: Teen Sleep with Laura Barger
- Laura Barger's Presentation titled An Epidemic of Sleep Deficiency: Undermining Student Success from the February 3, 2015 Parent Engagement Night
- Teens and Sleep Conference by CAREI, October 2013
- Link to a list of presentations that provide a comprehensive view of research on teen sleep and its associated issues. Presentations begin with basic biological background and move towards policy implications.
- Teens & Sleep, Later Start Times Kyla Wahlstrom, Ph.D., presentation speaks to the updates elicited by changes in school start times
- Implementing Later Start Times by Kenneth Dragseth, Ph.D, Edina School District (retired Superintendent)
- The Biology of Teen Sleep by Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
- Sleep, Memory and Learning, by Dr. Robert Stickgold, Harvard Medical School
- Link to series of web-based documentaries on sleep and its disorders developed for the general public in the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School in collaboration with WGBH
Research Around School Start Times
VUSD has done extensive research on the topic of school start times. Here are some of the research that has been considered.
- Wahlstrom, K., Dretzke, B., Gordon, M., Peterson, K., Edwards, K., & Gdula, J. (2014). Examining the Impact of Later School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study. Center for Applied Research and Educational. Improvement. St Paul, MN: University of Minnesota.
- 2014 Sleep in America Poll Sleep In The Modern Family, Summary of Findings from the National Sleep Foundation
- Czeisler, Charles A. Duration, timing and quality of sleep are each vital for health, performance and safety. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation.
- Owens J; Adolescent Sleep Working Group; Committee on Adolescence. Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: an update on causes and consequences. Pediatrics. 2014 Sep;134(3):e921-32. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-1696. Review. PubMed PMID: 25157012.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2014). Policy statement: School start times for adolescents. Pediatrics, 134(3), 642-649.
- The Children’s National Medical Center’s Blueprint for Change Team. School Start Time Change: An In-Depth Examination of School Districts in the United States. April 2014.
- Kyla L. Wahlstrom, The Prickly Politics of School Starting Times, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 05, January 1999, pp. 344-347
- Kyla L. Wahlstrom, Changing Times: The First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times, NASSP Bulletin, Vol. 86, No. 633, December 2002
- Mary A Carskadon, When Worlds Collide: Adolescent Need for Sleep Versus Societal Demands, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 05, January 1999, pp. 348-353
- (Vorona RD, Szklo-Coxe M, Lamichhane R, Ware JC, McNallen A, Leszczyszyn D. Adolescent crash rates and school start times in two central Virginia counties, 2009-2011: a follow-up study to a southeastern Virginia study, 2007-2008. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 Nov 15;10(11):1169-77. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4192. PubMed PMID: 25325600; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4224716.).
- (Hamiduzzaman S, Phillips B. High school start times and death on the road. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 Nov 15;10(11):1179-80. PubMed PMID: 25325585; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4224717).
- A's from Zzzz's? The causal effect of school start time on the academic achievement of adolescents SE Carrell, T Maghakian, JE West - American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2011
- Never Enough Sleep: A Brief History of Sleep Recommendations for Children
- Lisa Anne Matricciani, Tim S. Olds, Sarah Blunden, Gabrielle Rigney and Marie T.Williams
- Pediatrics; originally published online February 13, 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2039
- Montgomery County Public Schools: Bell Times—Analysis of Additional Options. January 2015
- The Children's National Medical Center's Blueprint for Change Team. School Start Time Change: An In-Depth Examination of the School Districts in the United States (2014)
- Kyla L. Wahlstrom. Examining the Impact of Later High School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study. February 2014.
- Paul Kelley and Clark Lee. Later School Start Times in Adolescence: Time for Change. Education Commission of the United States. 2014.
- Impact of School Start Time on Student Learning. Hanover Research. February 2013.
- Brian A. Jacob and Jonah E. Rockoff. Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: StartTimes, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments. September 2011.
- Additional studies of the impact of early or later school start times.