Some people skip breakfast. Others wake up at absurdly early times. For some unlucky souls, “sleep” is defined as the thirty-minute bus ride from their house to school. And it shouldn’t be that way. So why is it that universally, schools almost, if not always, start at or around 8 am, and never later? Some potential reasons include student and teacher commutes, or potentially avoiding rush hour commutes. But do the small benefits afforded by schools starting early due to these reasons make up for most students’ loss in productivity?
For parts of middle and all of high school, the vast majority of students undergo many changes, physical and mental. According to the National Sleep Foundation, these changes include “increased sleepiness, even with optimal hours of sleep” (National Sleep Foundation 3). However, this phase of additional exhaustion usually takes place in the early morning, directly after waking up. This means that for most students, as they wake up and immediately must go to school, this dip in alertness coincides directly with the first few periods of school, making their early morning classes suffer. This highlights the true cost of schools’ early start times – for some students, they may as well not be in class as they simply cannot maintain an adequate level of productivity in class. In extreme cases, this leads to a requirement for additional work outside of class, which may delay their sleep times, leading to even less sleep and more sleepiness during class.
This, however, ignores the fact that for many students, the optimal eight to ten hours of sleep is but an unrealistic, unattainable ideal – in a study quoted by the NSF, only “15% of students were able to get the desired amount of sleep” (National Sleep Foundation 3). The reality for most students is that, due to changes in their body, teens are “wired to stay up and sleep in” (Macmillan 2). This is partially due to changes in the secretion of melatonin, a hormone important in regulating the circadian rhythms that dictate teens’ natural sleeping and waking hours. Delays in its secretion, combined with common habits such as digital device usage, as well as the ever-increasing workload placed on students, makes the eight-hour sleep goal simply impossible, furthering the problem. The solution is simple and obvious. Schools should start much later in the day.
However, there are several reasons that globally, the vast majority of schools do start early in the morning. The most predominant of these, however, is to avoid the rush hour commute, and ensure that teachers and students alike can make it to school without getting caught in traffic. Most schools, though, fail to see that postponing rather than advancing schools’ start times achieves the same result – students can escape the rush hour not by waking up ridiculously early to leave for school before it hits, but rather by waiting it out, giving busy teenagers time in the morning to spend time with their family, catch up on schoolwork or just rest up until they have to leave for school. Not only will this reduce sleepiness in the morning, but students will potentially be able to get work done before school, reducing stress at night and allowing students to sleep earlier.
Yet another counterargument is brought by those who attend or supervise extra-curricular events – in the case of the postponement of school starting hours, when will practice be held? The dangerous assumption here is made by those who think that extra-curriculars must always be held in the evening a set period of time after school ends, as is currently the case in ISKL, where clubs begin at 3.10 and sports at 4.30 pm. However, if school hours were to be postponed, changes could be made to reorganise the timing of extra-curriculars – clubs and sports could be split up, with one occurring before and the other after school. In the case of school starting at 10 and ending at 5, either sports or extracurriculars could begin at 9 and the other ending at 6 – in essence preserving current school hours while still allowing students more efficient timing. A more radical suggestion is to slightly extend school hours while consolidating passing periods into shorter slots, with the majority of break time in one large lunch break. This would allow full-length sessions of clubs to be held during school hours. This, however, is not a cure-all; for those living in countries where the hours of sun may be limited either seasonally or year-round, adaptations to the provided sample schedule may be required to tailor to the local region’s needs.
Despite all the opposition to changing the early start times for school, support is growing to allow schools to postpone their school start times. The aforementioned benefits far outweigh any potential inconveniences or issues, and even solve some existing problems. There is no reason why schools should not adopt this policy, for the good of their students, teachers and community as a whole.
- Dodd, Meredith. “Are You Getting Enough ZZZs?” Army.mil, US Army, 1 Mar. 2016, www.army.mil/article/163014/are_you_getting_enough_zzzs_sleep_like_a_baby_with_these_top_tips.
- “Later School Start Times: Benefits & Cons.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/backgrounder-later-school-start-times.
- MacMillan, Amanda. “Teens May Do Better When School Starts Later.” Time, Time, 17 Apr. 2017, time.com/4741147/school-start-time/.
- McNamara, Brittney. “Your School Letting You Sleep Later Could Literally Save Your Life.” Teen Vogue, Teen Vogue, 4 Jan. 2019, www.teenvogue.com/story/why-schools-should-start-later-and-teens-should-sleep-more.