- Researchers at the University of Washington recently released a study in Science Advances that examined the effects of later school start times of 55 minutes at two high schools in the Seattle Public Schools and found that students gained an average of 34 minutes extra sleep, were tardy or absent less often and received grades that were 4.5% higher in the biology class used in the study, NPR reports.
- The study compared two groups of students — 92 sophomore biology students at Franklin High School and Roosevelt High School who wore wrist monitors and used sleep diaries to track sleep patterns in the spring of 2016 when the class began at 7:50 a.m. and 88 students who took the same biology class the following year when the start time was changed to 8:45 a.m.
- Despite the growing evidence to support later sleep times and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that secondary schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, only 17% of public middle and high schools start after that time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
This recent research by the University of Washington adds to a growing body of research suggesting the advantages of later start times for teens. A 2014 study published by the University of Minnesota tracked 9,000 students in three states in eight different public schools and found that students got more sleep, experienced fewer episodes of depression, and had better grades, better test scores, and fewer absences. The number of car crashes involving teen drivers dropped as well. Other studies conducted in Rhode Island and North Carolina, and research by Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine have also demonstrated benefits to delayed start times.
In addition to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Sleep Foundation and Stanford Medical University are among the organizations supporting later start times for teens. Forbes Magazine and the Wall Street Journal have also drawn attention to the issue.
Despite the growing research base, relatively few schools have made the switch to later start times because of the disadvantages and obstacles to the plan. Schools and lawmakers cite logistical concerns, the higher cost of transportation, and the effects on parental schedules, extracurricular school activities, and student work schedules. For some families, the decision may also affect the need for older students to be home with younger children in the afternoon.
School leaders may need to develop creative solutions to address these concerns. For instance, one school district trimmed class periods by just 5 to 10 minutes each to lessen the impact on after-school plans, saying the increase in student attention and focus made enough of a difference to justify the decision. Parents and students also need to have input into the decision, as it greatly impacts their lives. Surveys, feedback forms and public forums can allow all interested parties to have input into the issue and provide greater support for whatever decision is made.