The Pros and Cons of Starting High School Later

If you've ever had trouble getting your teen up in the morning or you've seen teens fall asleep during the school day, you're not alone. Many adolescents struggle to wake up early for school. It's sparked a discussion about the pros and cons of starting school at a later time.

While some people may think that teens are just lazy for not getting up early, doctors say that's not actually the case. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has urged school districts to consider later start times so that adolescents can get adequate sleep. Still, many districts have said that changing the time school starts just isn't feasible. 

Benefits of starting school later
Verywell / Emily Roberts 

What Physicians Say

The AAP’s Adolescent Sleep Working Group reviewed studies involving inadequate sleep in teens. Researchers analyzed the harmful effects sleep deprivation—anything less than 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep on school nights—can have on young people.

They concluded that poor sleep is linked to increased reliance on caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. They also discovered a link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of car accidents in teens.

It may seem as though the solution would be for teens to simply go to sleep earlier. But researchers say that it isn't likely to work. Teens experience hormonal shifts that make falling asleep earlier difficult, if not impossible. Their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., even when they’re tired.

Studies show that simply delaying school by 30 minutes can have a dramatic impact on teens' health and performance. So most researchers recommend school start times be delayed until at least 8:30 a.m. for teenagers. Benefits of delayed school start times include:

  • More sleep: Teens may be more likely to get the recommended amount of sleep. 
  • Better sleep: Delayed start time could help teens sleep during their natural sleep/wake cycles.
  • Less caffeine: Teens may be less likely to depend on caffeine to stay awake during the day.
  • Better grades: Adequate sleep could help teens be more alert during the school day, which could boost their academic performance.
  • Better health: Sleeping longer could reduce health-related issues that accompany sleep deprivation.
  • Better choices: Getting home later in the afternoon (if school is shifted forward) may reduce the amount of time some teens are home alone, and could decrease the likelihood they will engage in unhealthy activities.

What School Districts Say

Despite the recommendation from the AAP, the majority of school districts aren’t planning to change their start times. School officials often cite logistical concerns about starting the school day later.

Delaying high school start times could pose problems with bus schedules, after-school activities, and sporting events for the entire district. Changing the high school start time could have a domino effect on all the schools that could pose a logistical nightmare.

Critics also note that a later dismissal time for teens would pose problems for those who must provide childcare to younger siblings. Students who participate in sports and extra-curricular activities would get home later in the evenings. And teens might stay up even later if they don't have to wake for school at an earlier time.

What Parents Can Do

No matter what time your teen's school starts, it's important to support your teen by making sure they're getting enough high-quality sleep. Teach your teen about appropriate sleep hygiene and talk about the benefits of sleep.

While you can't force your teen to fall asleep at a certain time, you can establish a "lights out rule." Take away electronics at least 60 minutes before bedtime and encourage your teen to read quietly in his room to help them get ready for bed.

Most teens like to sleep late on the weekends or during school vacations. However, sleeping in can throw off your teen's natural sleep/wake cycle. Keep your teen on a consistent schedule even on weekends and school vacations.

If you feel strongly that your child’s health and academic life are being disrupted by a lack of sleep, be an advocate for your child. Share your concerns with school officials. Attend school board meetings and discuss this issue with other parents. You may be able to gain enough support to create change.

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Article Sources
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