Benefits of a Later Start Time

Zhen Tu, Features Writer

unnamed-fileOlivia Crutchfield

As October comes to a close, many students are feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Whether it’s due to studying for tests or participating in extracurricular activities, most students have no choice but to sleep for six or fewer hours per night.

Sleep deprivation among teenagers is a serious problem and has been an important topic of debate for the last two decades. Only one-third of American teenagers get at least eight hours of sleep per night — the suggested range is 8.5-9.5 hours.

The repercussions of getting less than the optimal amount of sleep include poor grades, the inability to concentrate, and an increase in anxiety, depression, and car accidents. In a 2014 study conducted by the University of Minnesota, researchers found that delaying the school start time from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. led to a seventy percent drop in teenage car crashes. Rachel Widome, assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota, believes the “evidence is really clear that later start times are incredibly beneficial for academic outcomes, school attendance, mental health, and injuries — specifically car crashes.”

Mary A. Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, researched whether schools can give students more sleep. She answers, “By moving the bar, they actually can give kids more sleep.” The compelling research led some schools in the Twin Cities area to remedy the problem of sleep deprivation by making a significant change in the school start time.

For high school kids, it’s a little harder to get the engine going.”

— Chace Anderson

At Wayzata High School, a December 2015 school board unanimously voted for a change in the school start time. For the 2016-2017 school year, the 7:30 a.m. original start time was delayed to 8:20 a.m. The middle schools altered their start time from 8:20 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. However, there was some backlash from parents who worried about the consequences this change would have on the elementary school students, who now have an earlier start time in order to coordinate the bus schedules. Nevertheless, Wayzata Superintendent Chace Anderson believes this change was necessary, explaining that elementary school students “wake up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to go,” whereas “for high school kids, it’s a little harder to get the engine going.” He adds, “We made a change consistent with national research about adolescent sleep patterns and the need for high school and also middle-school aged students to begin school later in the morning.”

The Wayzata Public Schools District is not the only district to implement changes. The Edina School District modified its school schedule more than six years ago after the Minnesota Medical Association sent sleep research findings to superintendents in the state. The original 7:20 a.m. start time was pushed back to 8:30 a.m. Laura Nelson, a school district spokeswoman, perceived a significant difference after the change was put into effect. “Teachers think the kids are more alert; they document fewer absences and tardiness in early classes,” Nelson revealed. Following the example set by the Edina School District, the Minneapolis School District also changed the high school start time from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. one year later.

Despite the fact that a later school time could benefit both teachers and students, the logistics can be difficult to figure out. For many school districts, overcoming obstacles in geography and transportation can take several years.