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School day starts too early for sleepy students (and teachers), researchers say

July 5, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Here’s a question for all you high school students out there in cyberspace: If it were up to you, would you rather start your school day at 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m.? (Sorry, noon is not an option.)

Sleep in school start time too early If you chose 8:30, you get an A+. According to a new study, students were far more likely to get eight hours of shut-eye at night and were less likely to report being unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated when they began their first class at 8:30.

Researchers from Rhode Island studied the student body of a New England boarding school that once began its day at 8 a.m. but later delayed its start time until 8:30. You might not be surprised to learn that the students slept in later after the change was made. But – get this – they started going to bed earlier too. Here’s how one student explained it to the research team:

“Well for me, ever since the 8:30 start, I have seen how much good 30 minutes of extra sleep does for me, so I have been inspired to … get an additional half hour on top of the 30 minutes.”

Of course, the switch to a later start time made students feel less sleepy. More specifically, the percentage of students who got less than seven hours of sleep per night fell from 34% before to 7% after, while the percentage of students who got at least eight hours of sleep jumped from 16% to 55%.

When school began at 8 a.m., 66% of students reported feeling “somewhat unhappy or depressed.” After delaying the first bell until 8:30, that figure fell to 45%. Likewise, the percentage of students who said they felt “irritated or annoyed” fell from 84% to 63%. (They were still teenagers, after all.)

But the time change wasn’t a panacea. Grades improved slightly, though the difference wasn’t statistically significant. And 89% of the kids still got less than the recommended minimum of nine hours of sleep each night, even after the start time was pushed back half an hour. As a result, 66% of students said they got sleepy while doing their homework, 18% continued to fall asleep during morning classes and 36% relied on naps to get through the day.

The lesson here isn’t that pushing back the clock doesn’t matter; it’s that a 30-minute delay probably isn’t enough, the researchers concluded in their study, which will be published in Tuesday’s edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The study echoes lots of other research documenting the perils of forcing teens to get to school too early. Adolescence brings with it biological changes that make it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. or to wake up before 8 a.m. Yet my alma mater begins its first period at 7:30 a.m., which is hardly unusual.

Sometimes the reluctance to change the school day schedule is blamed on teachers, but the Rhode Island study found that the faculty overwhelming embraced the 8:30 start time. As one teacher told the researchers:

“On a more personal note, I have found the 8:30 start to be the single most positive impact to my general quality of life at [the school] since I started 12 years ago.”

Still not convinced? Just sleep on it.

— Karen Kaplan

Photo: This student is surely dreaming of a school day that starts later in the morning. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.

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Comments (42)

We start our school day at 7 am in Alaska, hard for kids, parent, and staff; especially in the dead of winter when the sun does not rise until 10 am!!!
As a parent the magic number is a 9am start time for all grade levels, kids would get their 8-9 hours of leep then!

No, the problem is, everyone is staying up too late.
Watching TV, gaming, tweeting..... It isn't rocket science: if you are too tired, go to bed earlier.

I student taught at a school that started at 8:45 and ended shortly after 3. It was a lot better for me because I could work out and clean up without waking up at four in the morning.

However, a lot of my sleepy students have parents who don't make them go to bed, so they stay up until midnight or three a.m. watching television, playing video games, and surfing the internet or texting their friends. If school started later, these students may just stay up later. In that situation, what they need are parents who make them get the rest that they need, not a school that starts later.

I can't believe it.. Another nonsense study paid for by the taxpayers to insure that the kids and teachers do not have to be part of the real world.

How may jobs the kids get when they leave high school are going to allow them to be her at 8:30 because they feel better? The answer i guess is the teaching industry which works form 8am to 3pm now and get summers off.

Boy I feel for those poor teachers and students. Why don't me make school 2 months a year for 11am to 1pm ( so they can qualify for there state funding reimbursement) and quit all the rest of this learning crap and preparing a person for real life stuff.

P.S. Just a thought. Who did the study? Rhode Island Teachers unions???

My middle school child's day starts at 5:30 a.m. so he can get to the bus stop by 6:15, all in order to get to school by the 7:20 start here in northern Nevada. 7th grade was miserable for him, and 8th won't be better. Later days would work much better for kids!!

Our high school starts at 8:30, but probably 75% of the school is there by 8:00 to get extra work done! Every Thursday, school starts at 9:00 because there are teachers' meetings, and that is the best day of the week. We get so much done in that extra half hour that I wish all days started at that time, even if that means shorter lunch and breaks.

My experience was in another country, and a long time ago, but one thing I remember, maybe more significant for High-Schoolers, is that the TV schedules had a lot of serious programming in the early evening. Not just a news bulletin, but political analysis and all sorts of documentaries. Today, the same programmes rarely start before 10pm. Whether student, teacher, or in some other employment, it is hard to be as well-informed about about the world, and get a good night of sleep. Perhaps such things as 24-hour news channels are a partial answer to the problem?

I was lucky, travel time between home and school wasn't a big problem for me. But if the aim is nine hours of sleep, how much time, after sleep and travel and school and homework and meals, is left for anything else?

I'll concede that many students need to turn off the lights earlier so they can wake up - and actually be alert - for school. But many teens simply aren't tired by 10 or 11 p.m. I've inherited my dad's sleeping habits, meaning I can tuck myself in at 11 p.m. and prepare to stare at the ceiling for 2 - 4 hours before actually falling asleep. Then after a solid five hours, I got to wake up 6:45 a.m. to get to high school.

Now that I'm in college, you couldn't pay me or anyone else I know to enroll in an 8 a.m. class. An example from a philosophy professor I had, furthers the point. He taught two ethics classes, one at 8 a.m. and the other at noon. He constantly compared the two classes, remarking how no one even pretended to participate in the 8 a.m. class. Students struggled to stay upright. Now I'm sure there were many students who stayed up late of their own accord, but what about those who simply weren't tired until later? What's wrong with a sysytem that everyone benefits from?

And we're not going to be prepared for the real world, bruce? I have an internship that starts at 9:15 a.m. and another job that starts at 10 a.m. That's my reality. Sorry to disturb yours.

They're just figuring this out? I could have told them this same thing when I was going to school and feeling brain-dead until 9 or 10 in the morning. Most adults begin work at 9, why must kids start at 7 or 8?

I'm sorry, but as a college student, and one who just finished going through high school, I find this study bogus. I'm a statistics major, and this study sounds like it ignored a lot of lurking variables. First of all, how does one border school on the east coast represent any normal public school on the west coast? It doesn't. Also, I bet you a hundred bucks the results they got in the study are only temporary. You give it a year, and students will once again be complaining about how early school starts and their test scores will fall back to where they were before. It is in a teenager's nature to sleep in. Just look at college students. We have problems waking up for 10 o'clock classes let alone 8 o'clock. We like to stay up late. The 30 minutes you give us in the morning, we will only use to stay up 30 minutes later. I respect the fact that researches are trying to find ways to improve our school systems, but honestly, I think teenagers prefer being awake than asleep. I doubt they will ever opt for eight hours of sleep over staying out with friends

Bruce-What do you mean another study so that teachers and students don't have to live in the real world? You're ridiculous. If these studies are true and school did start at 8:30, the school day would be pushed back a half hour. Most teachers work well beyond the 3 o'clock bell anyways- for free. Teaching is a tough job, but is very rewarding, which is why we do it. I, for one, would love to start school later and end the day later. And for your information, most jobs in the real world start at 9.a.m. because business leaders know that adults aren't fully functional until that hour, so get a clue. Boy, you must be a joy to be around.

"I can't believe it.. Another nonsense study paid for by the taxpayers to insure that the kids and teachers do not have to be part of the real world."

I don't know what brutal part of the real world you live in, but here in the northeast lots of us don't start work till 9 or even 10 am. Around 9 am is peak rush hour traffic here. Contrast that with high schools that start at 7 or 7:10 am and there's a real problem.

It might just be the break light effect. When they first installed break lights on the rear car window it lowered accident rates dramatically. Once the novelty went away accident rates returned to normal.

By delaying Start time you might have an immediate impact because the kids are still on the schedule of school at 8, so goto bed at 11. Once they are used to school at 8:30, they might end up going to bed at 11:30 or 12, and the final result is the same.

I disagree that the school day starts too soon for the sleepy. I counter that the previous day ended too lately for the sleepy students. Get to bed early enough and you shouldn't have a problem the next day.

Ha, when I was in high school taking AP classes, we had zero period at 6:30am, everyday--granted I was late a few times here or there, but always there. however after 2pm, my mind and body were pretty much done--until I had waterpolo/swim practice from 3pm to 5pm--believe it or not that actually helped my body and my mind.

I took a shower at 5am and made it to school by 6:30am--that's how I watched live as the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York--my teacher was in tears. Eastern Time is three hours ahead of Pacific Time.

As I look back at the last five years of teaching I can safely say that my first period class by far is the lowest achieving of the day and we start school at 730.

If we start the day later, say 9am, we also cut into time that kids spend doing extra-curricular activities after the school hours.

Most families would likely want their kids home for dinner at a decent time, so music, sports, homework would be crammed into a shorter period.

How about getting the kids to bed at a decent time that allows for 7+ hours of sleep a night at a minimum?

What would that be, like 11pm?

My workday starts at 7 - I wish it started at 8 or even 9.

My workday starts at 7 - I wish it started at 8 or even 9.

My high school starts at 7:45, its terrible. half the students come late or are asleep in class.

Since most of these kids are unteachable and will be unemployable lets save the taxpayers a LOT of money and have the kids stay home...forever.

Where would American "education" be without the ordeal factor? Crack of dawn starts, The Tardy Room, less emphasis on academic performance than on sheer attendance... It's boot camp for the defenseless, turning young minds into mush.

I am a Math and Statistics major. This study is rediculous. I agree with the other guy here who said that the researcher didnt consider other lurking variables in the study. This study has not been replicated and it only accounts for the opinions of the students. I have been in boarding school and i know why students sleep late at night. They stay up late playing at night rather than doing their homework or studying their lessons. Very few people here have Statistics and Research background and most of them just believe rightaway what these so called " bogus researchers" say without thinking! That is sad for this country that very few people are logical thinkers. They just believe rightaway what they read or what others have told them without doing their own research from other sources. We have to realize that there are many factors to consider in raising students' achievement. I for one believe in self-discipline. Parents have to be firm in impossing routines to their kids to study and do their homework rather than staying up late at night doing Myspace or facebook chatting to friends. Some people here favor this idea because they themselves are lazy to come to work early and they are just making this research as a lame excuse.

I had to go to school until 7:00 am and it finished 11:00~11:50 pm.
Our real vacation was only 1 week in summer and winter.

Our education ruined somethings like... relationships, values, futures of ours.

I'm a Korean, by the way.



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