Will later start times = more sleep? We’re going to find out.

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Will a later start time help our high school students get more sleep, foster better academic performance and reduce rates of anxiety and depression?

I think so. But a few weeks ago, I was championing our school’s new start times — the first bell now rings at 8:35 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m. — and an anonymous (but local) Twitter follower challenged me.

S/he responded: I’m highly skeptical: A) that the majority get more sleep, B) that its enough to make a difference. c) prepares students for College/real-world expectations.

Also: How about as a class project this year you have students track the times they go to bed and wake up. I’m more than confident that the results will show a net-gain of ZERO additional sleep time.

I responded with a few comments about the research and my sons getting more sleep in college, and s/he responded with concerns about laziness and divisive change before we agreed to disagree.

But the good news from this story is that I already have such a project — and two years of baseline data.

In AP Psychology, my students track their bedtime, total night’s sleep, caffeine use, and sleepiness ratings for 11 days, starting on a Thursday in January. They submit their averages to a Google form, so I have the numbers on 110 students from 2017 and 2018.

And here’s what the data says:

  • My students’ average bedtime was 11:22 p.m., with 7 reporting an average bedtime before 10 p.m. and 40 after midnight.
  • My students’ average night’s sleep was 7 hours, and this included two weekends.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Nationwide Children’s Hospital says exactly 9-¼ hours is best. While 36 of my students reported an average of 8 hours or more (again, including four weekend days), only 11 reached an average of 9 hours during the sample period.

In short: Only 10 percent of students were getting the recommended average amount of sleep over an 11-day period. That’s horrible. It sure explains the glazed-over eyes in first hour.

Does the new start time mean anything will change? That’s the million dollar question.

It’s possible, of course, that students will just stay up later, as my detractor argued. But let’s consider what we were asking of them, under the old start time.

Last year, buses picked high school kids up at 6:30 a.m., so most were getting up around 6 a.m. to shower, dress and grab a bite.

Do the math. To get 9-¼ hours of sleep on a school night, they would have had to go to bed at 8:45 p.m. Say what you will about how late teens stay up, but that’s laughable. High school sporting events on weeknights seldom end before 9 p.m. And we know adolescent bodies aren’t ready to fall asleep that early.

We were setting them up for failure.

I hope this year’s students realize what a gift they’ve been given — and don’t take it for granted. I hope they are willing to turn off their devices and sleep the extra hour, so they reap the benefits in focus, mental health, physical health and academics.

If not, at least we know it will be their choice now, rather than the inevitable consequence of our policies.

I’ll share the results in January, when we finish this year’s Teens & Sleep lesson. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a start.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or join the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom


One thought on “Will later start times = more sleep? We’re going to find out.

  1. Jen Mohlenhoff

    Our family will have 8 years with the former/early start time and 4 years with the new/later time which began this week. I applaud the change as sensible and better for many, perhaps most, of our high schoolers. Out the door between 6:30-6:45 a.m. isn’t what was best for our teens, it was just what we were used to. I think we will see positive results from this change; we just have to give it some time.


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