Schools start too early for teens

New University research indicates the benefits of moving back start times for high schoolers.

Connor Nikolic

It may sound silly, but one of my first goals when I came to the University and set my own schedule was to ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry about staying awake through early morning classes. I knew I had a tendency to stay up late, and it had cost me many hours of valuable shut-eye in high school. I found none of my classes to be unreasonably early, and I finally moved past my time fiascos.

I haven’t forgotten about how early my peers and I had to be in class in high school. Class started by 7:45 a.m., but my bus came at about 7. On mornings I wanted to come early and work with my trigonometry teacher, I would have to leave by 6:30. If I woke at 5:45, I would have had to fall asleep by 10 p.m. the night before to get my full eight hours.

High school makes students wake up at the break of dawn. It turns out this practice is just what it feels like: unnatural.

Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, told the Associated Press that teenagers don’t generally feel sleepy until 10:45 p.m. She added that teens would likely stay in bed until 8 a.m., for about nine hours.

It’s an uphill battle of biology for young people, including many college students, to wake up so early.

CAREI released a study earlier this month on the sleep habits of high school students. The research project found that students are both happier and better test takers when they switched to a later start time.

In addition, tardiness, substance abuse, symptoms of depression and caffeine consumption all decreased with a later start time, according to the study. One school in the study saw a 70 percent drop in car crashes involving students after switching to an 8:55 a.m. start time, the latest in the study.

Many schools are bound to current start times by bus company schedules. Some districts have buses run their high school routes, then the middle school, elementary and kindergarten routes. For the high school to start later, all of the start times would likely have to be later as well. However, I don’t believe that moving bus schedules would cost the younger students and parents too much, as such a move would benefit older students.

Early start times also allow more time for after-school activities. With more burdens on students’ time than ever before — work, sports, volunteering, etc. — school officials likely think they are doing students a favor by creating more study and work time. However, schools should not deprive students of natural sleep to increase potential after-school time. Administrators should be placing their focus on a full night’s sleep rather than afternoon free time.

I rarely enjoyed a full night of sleep on a weeknight in high school, and most of my peers didn’t get enough sleep either. Research in sleep habits points to ideal start times at about 8:30 a.m., or even later. It’s in the best interest of student health for districts to push back schedules.

This sleep research could also prove useful for college students building their class schedule for next semester. Some University students are teenagers and may biologically need a different sleep schedule. While we may think we are adults, college students shouldn’t be quick to deny their bodies ample — and natural — time to catch some Z’s.