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July 26th, 2010
09:51 AM ET

Ring the high school bell later

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.

“If you don’t get up now, you’re going to be late for school!”

Do you remember hearing this during high school?

Have you ever said this to your high school student child?

If you answered yes to either question (I did to both) you’ll be interested in the results of a recent study.

I know it’s summer vacation and a lot of teenagers think rising for lunch is appropriate. But in two weeks (yup, the second week in August), it’s back to school for our boys, a high school senior and a sixth-grader.

When the older boy complains that school starts too early, he may have science on his side. "Beginning at the onset of puberty, adolescents develop as much as a two-hour sleep-wake phase delay (later sleep onset and wake times) relative to sleep-wake cycles in middle childhood," the authors of a study on the subject wrote in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

CNN summarized the study’s conclusion: “Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.”

Based on years of observation – of our teen son and his sister now in college – I tend to agree. The research says that this age group needs 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep nightly. Does anyone know a high school student getting that much sleep when school is in session? A study in 2006 by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of high school students slept fewer than eight hours a night. No surprise that that not getting enough sleep contributes to being unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated.

The latest study focused on 200 students at the St. George’s School, a private school in Providence, Rhode Island, where the bell that once rang at 8 a.m. was re-set to 8.30 a.m. “What surprised me most,” Head of School Eric F. Peterson said, “was the breadth of the benefit. I kind of figured things would be a little better in some ways. They seemed to be so much better in many ways.”

Tracking the effects of changing the time school starts for the older set is the subject of an online campaign in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., by a group called SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal). SLEEP ironically found itself opposed by WAKE (Worried About Keeping Extra-curriculars), which worried what would happen to after-school activities.

A study of two other Virginia school districts with different start times found that a later bell can even help reduce the incidence of teenage vehicle accidents.

Delaying the start time for the older kids might mean changes in the school day for younger kids, wreak havoc on bus schedules and parents dropping off and picking up their kids and force rescheduling of sports, play practice and other after school events. And, yes, there are teenagers who will continue to stay up late, show up late and pay too little attention no matter what time the bell rings.

The bottom line: "If you really need nine hours, and you're only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference," said Dr. Judith A. Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorder center at Hasbro Children's Hospital, who directed the Providence research.

What do you think? Does high school start too early in the morning?


Filed under: David Schechter • Education
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Jennifer

    Why do high school students need to be at school so early? School let's out at 2:30 in the afternoon. School could start at 9/10 am and then let out at 3/4 pm in the afternoon. Just my opinion.

    October 8, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  2. T

    This article is not saying that we extend school starting hours to noon, at all. It's simply saying that maybe a half hour extension would help.
    When I was in high school, I was up at 5:30 a.m. and barley had time to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and get to school before my school bell rang at 7:15. And as a teenager, I didn't go to sleep until midnight or later every night. That's just how it is.
    In college, my earliest class is at 8:00 a.m., and even then with the 45 minute difference then what I am used to, I feel more rested and alert.
    I agree that school starting hours should be pushed back a half hour.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  3. Vilma Anderson

    I definitely agree that teenagers should not start school before noon. They are too tired to learn anything. And no, they won't go to bed early. I am one of those people who at 63, I still can't function until after noon. I am in my best between 1PM and 4AM. There should be a choice. Start classes early and see how many kids will sign up for early classes and offer classes after noon and see how many will sign up.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  4. bobo

    when i was in Calgary School use to start at 9am for most grades but here in America you have to wake up at 6am or earlier for class which starts at 7:30am for high school or 8:30 for ele and jr high. Students need to feel safe when they have to go to school

    September 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  5. bill

    put it on the parents !!! teens need to get to bed earlier . send them to the service and see what time they get up and go to bed . its all this tech stuff , texting , video games . parents need to put their foot down. ask my daughter who is 1st class airman . up at 4:30 am and in bed by 9 pm. if you give the kids a full day of activities and no time to screw around . there will be plenty of sleep . stop playing the blame circle .

    September 6, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  6. Dr. J. Hill, Ph.D.

    No, I don't believe high school starts to early. If a student needs more sleep the student should try going to bed earlier! I'm tired of the excuses surrounding low and/or poor student performance i.e. everyone is to blame except the parents, who helped to establish these behaviors at an early age, and the students themselves. There are too many students dictating to parents what they will or will not do. Parents need to step up to the plate and be parents! Do you believe an employer is going to change the company's starting time because someone "little darling" needs to sleep a little longer – I think not!!!

    August 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm |