Benefits of Letting Your High School Student Sleep In

June 26, 2014 

Sleep Teen

Maybe high school students have the right idea by sleeping in.

Recent research from a February 2014 study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement details the benefits for high school students whose classes begin at 8:30 a.m. or later.

Historically, high school students have reported to classes anywhere from 7 to 8 a.m., but a growing number of early adopter schools across the United States are implementing later start times, according to an article in the New York Times.To Keep Teenagers Alert, Schools Let Them Sleep In” by Jan Hoffman says high school start times are linked to family routines, sports schedules, bus transportation, bureaucratic school district leadership, and perhaps most significantly, an agreed-upon standard that many are reluctant to change.

So why are some schools opting to push the start time back, despite these barriers?

Medical research has consistently shown that high school adolescents need eight or nine hours of sleep per night in order to properly develop physically and emotionally. According to the article, cultural norms may support the idea that less sleep is proof that someone is working harder. Sleep researchers disagree, though, pointing out that hormones are rising and the brain is developing during adolescence, making sleep cycles and a solid night’s sleep during this period even more important.

Among the most convincing findings in this study on later high school start times are the quantitative results from high school students who reported they got eight hours or more of sleep. Not only did the students score higher on national achievement tests, but they were also less likely to be tardy or skip school entirely. The article also states that with later start times there was a “significant reduction” in car crashes involving teens.

Additional benefits include that students “were more likely to say they have good overall health and were less likely to report being depressed or using caffeine and other substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, other drugs).” With a full eight hours of sleep or more, students were found less likely to sustain athletic injuries and more adverse to engaging in risky behavior like fighting.

The movement to shift high school start times has been slowly building momentum since the early 1990s. The increase in recent research has helped expedite the process for some schools. According to Hoffman’s article, over “the last two years, high schools in Long Beach, Calif.; Stillwater, Okla.; Decatur, Ga.;, and Glens Falls, N.Y., have pushed back their first bells, joining early adopters in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Seattle school board will vote this month on whether to pursue the issue. The superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., supports the shift, and the school board for Fairfax County, Va., is working with consultants to develop options for starts after 8 a.m.”

So despite your previous judgment, maybe letting your child snooze the alarm a couple of times isn’t so bad after all.

What do you think about later start times for our Philadelphia-area schools? Feel free to share your opinion via Twitter #laterstarttimes.

For more studies on similar topics, visit the links below:

Implementing Later Start Times: Getting It DoneKenneth Dragseth, Ph.D. and Randall Zipf, Ph.D. Read the rationale from two school district superintendents who moved back their high school start times.

Sleep, Caffeine Use, & Social MediaAmy Wolfson, Ph.D. Learn how caffeine and smartphones alter our sleep patterns.

The Biology of Teen Sleep PatternsMary Carskadon, Ph.D.Dr. Carskadon details why teenagers need a certain amount of sleep each night for their brains to properly develop.

Click to read more parent and high school student resources

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr.


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