The Washington Post reports that Fairfax County in Virginia is the latest school district to join the debate over school start times. A proposal would change the start time of most high schools in the county from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
The goal is to help sleep-deprived teens get more sleep. Research shows that teen sleep loss is related in part to a biological change that occurs during the teen years.
A shift in the body clock’s timing makes it hard for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. As a result teens fail to get enough sleep when they have to get up early for school.
But will teens really get more sleep if school starts later in the morning? Or will they just stay up even later at night?
A new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined this question. It focused on a Kansas county that changed the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Results show that the change had a positive effect.
A higher percentage of students got eight or nine hours of sleep per night. There was a decrease in “catch-up sleep” on weekends. Daytime sleepiness also decreased.
The study also suggests that school start times may be linked to drowsy driving. Crash rates for teen drivers in the county dropped by 16.5 percent in the two years after the change. In the rest of the state teen crash rates increased 7.8 percent.
Changing school start times can be a complex decision. It requires altering bus schedules. It has an impact on after-school sports, activities and jobs. It also affects after-school care for younger children.
But the change may be worth the effort. A study looked at how the change affected more than 12,000 high school students in the Minneapolis Public School District. It found that student attendance and enrollment improved. Students also got an average of five more hours of sleep per week.
So what do you think? Should teens get a later start in the morning?