Starting school later could help fix lack of sleep in adolescents


Half-asleep forensic students junior Madison Tighe, sophomore Keifer Austin, and sophomore Dakota White struggle to stay awake during class.

Liz Monk, Staff Writer

Most would blame the teenage demand for a later school day on that stereotypical teenage laziness. However, over exhaustion is a common issue in middle school and high school students, and early school start times are a big cause of this problem.

“Maybe they should go to sleep earlier,” one might argue. Well, it’s not quite that simple. The biological clock of most adolescents doesn’t allow them to go to sleep as early as young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says that “…sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

Additionally, many students have full schedules that make it harder for them to get to sleep early. A majority of high school students either have a job, participate in extracurricular activities, babysit younger siblings, or all three. Add several hours of homework on top of that, and many students can’t even think about going to bed before 11p.m.

This lack of sleep can have serious consequences, especially in adolescents. According to Jennifer LeComte, director of the pediatric program at Christiana Care’s Wilmington Hospital Health Center, “Poor sleep doesn’t always present as sleepiness. We also see inattention and even hyperactivity.” Due to this, many students have a hard time focusing in class, whether they are zoning out or misbehaving.

Pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, said that “…adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.”

According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, “…59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.”

It’s difficult for students to get a healthy amount of sleep due to out-of-school activities and early school start times, and the evidence is clear that adolescents need more sleep to have a more healthy and enjoyable life.

The question is: Why isn’t anything being done about it? The AAP stated, “An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30a.m. or later.”

Many schools refuse to introduce later start times because of the logistics of it. Matthew Albright, a writer for The News Journal in Wilmington, Del, said “ Many working parents rely on early bus times so they can get to work, and students who stay after for athletics and other activities would get home much later.”

However, pushing the school day back an hour, will not drastically affect the time most students get home, and shouldn’t a parent’s main concern be their child’s health and well-being? It wouldn’t be difficult for most families to adjust.

Some school districts have considered switching start times so middle school and high school started later in the day than elementary school. One legitimate argument against this, according to LouAnn Hudson, Indian River School District’s director of curriculum and instruction, is that, “…parents with young children often rely on their older children as caregivers in the afternoon.”

One possible solution to this problem is to have an after school program for younger children who need to be babysat by an older sibling, so they can ride the bus with their babysitter.

If one thing is clear, it’s that adolescents are not getting enough sleep for a multitude of reasons, and it’s causing negative effects on their health. Something needs to be done before sleep deprivation is considered as bad of an epidemic as obesity.

Starting school later in the day makes sense on so many levels. After all, our main concern should be students’ well being and not what’s convenient for adults.