The Pros and Cons of Starting High School Later

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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 and 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, some doctors say that's not actually the case. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics 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 

Why Physicians Say High School Should Start Later

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 have shown that simply delaying school by 30 minutes can have a dramatic impact on a teen’s health and performance. So most researchers recommend school start times be delayed until at least 8:30 a.m. for teenagers. 

The Reasons Many Districts Aren’t Changing Start Times

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.

The Pros

Benefits of delayed school start times could include:

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

The Cons

Critics of delayed start times offer these concerns:

  • Delaying junior high or high school start times would likely impact the schedule for all schools within a district.
  • Teens would get out of school later in the afternoons, which could pose problems for teens who provide childcare to younger siblings.
  • Students who participate in sports and extra-curricular activities would get home later in the evenings.
  • Teens could even stay up even later if they don't have to wake for school at an earlier time.

What Can Parents Do

No matter what time your teen's school starts, it's important to support your teen by making sure they're getting enough of 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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