To Sleep In or Not to Sleep In


Caroline Soltis, Staff

Walk into any first hour John Marshall class at 7:40 a.m., and you will see empty seats, bleary-eyed teenagers, and caffeine filled beverages designed to keep students awake. It is clear that many of these students would rather be home in bed, and based on the number of empty seats, many are. Some schools around the nation have started to change school start times, particularly for high schoolers. Why? The major and usually only reason: sleep. Teenagers are supposed to get around 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night, and many teens do not get even close to  that amount. In fact, the average amount of sleep for teens is under 7 hours a night, and only about 15% of teens actually get the right amount of sleep. This lack of adequate sleep leads to exhaustion throughout the school day, which can affect everything students do, including learning, studying, paying attention, dealing with stress and anxiety — which is a pretty important skill to use in high school —  solving problems, and driving. When teens are sleepy and unable to fully pay attention in class, they are unable to learn as much as possible at school. That is why many schools around the country are considering later start times for high schools.

To make sense of what this has to do with school start times, you need to ask, “Why don’t teens get enough sleep?” In addition to late night Netflix binges and loads of homework and studying crammed in after after-school sports, activities, and jobs, it’s a natural thing for teenagers not to be able to fall asleep very well before 11:00 p.m. During adolescence, sleep patterns in the internal clock to wake up and go to sleep are pushed later, meaning waking up super early in the morning disrupts the sleeping pattern of the person. The body still thinks it’s the middle of the night, and the teens are left feeling tired – at least until the 3 cups of coffee kick in.

So changing the start time of school and being able to sleep in every morning sounds pretty nice, right? However, along with the positive parts of the plan that appeal to most teens such as more sleep, there are actually many problems and critical questions that go along with it.

For instance, a big issue is transportation, and this is the same for many school districts, including Rochester. The Edina School District states that there aren’t enough school buses to carry all kids in the district if they change the start time to be the same for everyone. But if they change the walking distance requirements, it could mean longer walking to and from school in the cold or on dark mornings, especially for younger kids. Walking farther could also mean crossing more dangerous roads and traffic, which is not good for younger students either. Right now, the state requires students living 2 or more miles away from their school to receive free transportation to and from school, and this includes private schools as well. However, this could change if the start times did too. Buying more buses to fit all the students can get very expensive, so changing the distance requirements for kids walking could save the district $2.5 million on new buses plus additional costs around $1 million per year for maintenance.

Later high school start times could mean earlier start times for elementary schools, which presents its own set of issues.  Kids waiting for their buses in the morning would have to wait outside earlier, which can get very dark some parts of the year. Most parents don’t like the idea of their small children waiting alone outside at 7:00 am on a brisk, below-zero January morning, and can you blame them? Even if the parent doesn’t have to work and leave their kid alone, the bus stop may be a little ways away from their house and waiting inside wouldn’t be an option. In addition, not all parents can give their children a ride to school every morning, and there might not be any suitable ways to work around the problem certain days.

Another issue for the students in elementary school might be after school childcare. If they start earlier, they will also end school earlier, and this can be a problem if their parents or guardians have to work at that time. Many times, an older sibling will watch the child after school, but with the different start times, the older kid will probably be in school later than the younger. Daycare is always a possibility, but it does cost money and can get to be quite expensive. However, there is a possible solution with SACC (School Age Child Care) in elementary schools that could work well for many families with that problem.

After school activities for all students in the schools would also be affected by the different times. Out of school activities might have to adjust their meeting times, or the student would just not be able to be a part of them. School sports and clubs would still meet after school, since the point of the whole thing is to let teens get more sleep, so early morning practices and meetings wouldn’t work. These activities with later start times could run very late, and leave less time for other activities, homework, or just relaxing at home.

Also, sporting and academic events and competitions happening during the school day can leave students in middle and high school missing more school and having more work to make up later. Middle schoolers in high school sports might also have conflicts if the middle schools start later or earlier than the high schools.

Lastly, another big issue is work for teenagers. Many teens in high school have jobs, and later ending of school could cause major problems with their work schedule, as well the work place possibly trying to cover shifts.

So although later start times would greatly benefit most teens, there are many problems that arise in the process, which could all significantly influence the final decision.