Straight Talk Advice

Later School Start Time: Less Depression, More A’s, Fewer Auto Fatalities

Mar 21, 2012

What if high school started an hour later?

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I read with interest about the mother who couldn't get her son to sleep before midnight. Sleep deprivation is the norm today. But combining sleep deprivation with teens leads to extra problems because teens are prone to angst, depression, acute crises — and rash decisions. One in five suicides take place the same day as an acute life crisis and I believe sleep deprivation plays a role. It is biological fact that teens' circadian rhythms are hardwired to stay up later and sleep in later. It would be so much healthier if high school started at 8:30 or 9:00 to accommodate this. —Marion, Toledo, Ohio

Taylor 15, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

It would help tremendously! I would feel lucky to get eight or nine hours of sleep! Some teachers and parents agree that starting at 7:35 is too early. Driving to school in the morning, it is still dark! Plus my younger siblings get sleep-deprived, too, because we carpool.

Colin 18, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

I dream of a world where high school starts at 8:30-9:00. This is right up there with legalizing gay marriage and peace in the Middle East.

Nate 17, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

After reflecting on this, I think the current system is fine. A later start time would mean after-school activities might not start until 5:00. This is too late, especially considering time needed for studying and homework. It would also give students an excuse to stay up later. The sleep problem wouldn't be solved, just moved to a different time slot.

Katelyn 17, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

It might just give the excuse to stay up later. When my school has a “late start” day (an hour delay), half my peers are tardy because they stayed up too late.

Justin 25, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

I understand the logic here, but I chose the early high school start time (7:15) over the later one (8:15) so I could get out early. I always got at least seven hours of sleep, because I am seriously not happy if I don't get enough sleep.

Sarah 20, Santa Clara, Calif. Ask me a question

Starting school later is a lovely idea, but not a realistic solution. Driven students would take zero period to the next level, gaining more time to get ahead. Others would simply stay up later. Adults don't have the luxury of changing their schedules to suit personal preferences and teens shouldn't either.

DEAR MARION: Thank you for writing. I am an avid supporter of later start times for middle and high school. The forces against it are misguided and sadly, deeply ingrained. Evidently, even most panelists believe the “lazy teenager” myth and think the “early-to-rise” adage applies to their age group.

In reality, though, you are correct. Teens are biologically wired to stay up and rise later. There is almost a two-hour delay in the sleep/wake cycle between adolescence and middle childhood. Teens require 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep a night but the vast majority are lucky to get seven because we push them to rise on adult schedules, or worse.

A growing number of schools are turning their clocks back with powerful positive results. A Rhode Island school delayed start times only 30 minutes, from 8:00 to 8:30. Students were in better moods, more alert, less tardy, more motivated to participate in classes and sports — and less depressed. Students went to bed an average of 15 minutes earlier (the opposite of abuse) and slept an average of 45 minutes longer. Teachers and athletic coaches who were initially resistant, became strong supporters. A report of this study is in the July 2010 “Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.”

Another study in 2008 of a Kentucky school that pushed start time back one hour, reported a 17 percent reduction in teen car crashes. For other schools' experiences, see—Lauren

Editor's Note: In the high schools who are syncing their clocks with human biology and rolling their start times back to 8:30 or 9:00, the results are positive across the board. Teachers say it is like night and day. Students are averaging five or more extra hours of sleep per school week — and what a difference that extra hour per night makes. I wager that once there is long-term data on suicides in these districts, a reduction will be observed.

Another plus with letting teens follow their natural sleep pattern is that individuals prone to getting into trouble after school find fewer avenues for it because school isn't letting out at 3:30 when most adults are still at work. Instead, these teens can (and mostly do) sleep all morning, wake up feeling less grumpy, attend school more readily, and when they get out at 4:30 or 5:00, their parents tend to be home. —Lauren

Why teens need enough sleep (from Mary Carskadon, PhD, an expert on adolescent sleep):
•  fewer depressed moods
•  reduced tardiness
•  reduced absenteeism
•  better grades
•  reduced car crashes
•  reduced metabolic and nutritional deficits, including obesity

  1. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks on 03/26/2012

    This week’s column has led to some lively discussion on our Orange County Register column page. There I have learned about the website: Here you can sign a petition to ensure that high schools can’t start before 8:00AM. While I would prefer the minimum start time be 8:30, it’s a step in the right direction. Please consider adding your name!
    Thank you,

    Reply to this comment

  2. By concerned mom and teacher, age , from sebastopol on 03/26/2012

    In our school districts of Sebastopol the school hours are dictated by
    the bus system not the school board or any other employee that is elected or appointed through our tax dollars.  My daughter
    is at UC Berkeley now as an honor student.  And when she was
    stressed out or didn’t sleep well I would let her go late to school.  Or
    unfortunately for school funds she would stay home and study.  They started school way too early.  The jazz class was at 6:00am.
    How about if instead of the bus company deciding this important
    decision the parents and school decide.

    Reply to this comment

  3. By concerned mom and teacher, age , from sebastopol on 03/26/2012

    Teen have late night bio-rhythms and hormones that naturally keep them up later at night.  Not to mention social problems.

    Reply to this comment

  4. By Kate, age , from Richmond, va on 03/30/2012

    When we were living in SC the high school started at 9 and my daughter did so well.She never had any problems and became very good adult. Then we moved to VA where my son attented high school at 7:00 and he had hard time because he did not get enough sleep.So we see how things could be better for our kids if they get enough sleep.

    Reply to this comment

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