The Impact of School Start Times

Photo courtesy of mrehan/Flickr.
Photo courtesy of mrehan/Flickr.

By going to bed at 11 p.m. and getting up around five in the morning, middle and high school students aren’t even close to hitting their sweet spot of sleep time, says Cora Breuner, an adolescent children’s medicine physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“The amount of sleep that an adolescent needs is somewhere between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep a night in order for the brain to rest and the body to grow,” Breuner said.

Breuner is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently recommended adolescents start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. She says going to bed earlier isn’t really an option, because most kids aren’t naturally inclined to go to sleep much before 11 p.m.

"That’s about as early as that brain and that child can shut down," she said

But many educators are cautious about a later start. For one thing, transportation is limited in most districts - buses have to deliver the older kids to school first, then the younger elementary school kids.

Philip Wagner, superintendent in Licking Heights, in Central Ohio, says his district has talked about flipping those schedules because evidence shows the younger kids can better handle the early start. But he says that would present numerous logistical challenges.

“We have parents often helping their middle and high school students off to school, and then when those kids come home, they’re there to receive their younger siblings,” he said.

Plus, Wagner says it could cause conflicts with after school sports and other extracurricular schedules.

He says it might be easier to move older kids to later start times if more schools within a region made the shift together.

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