School start time: Should school starts later or should it stay the same?

Around the world, school time starts ranging from 7-8:30 a.m. regardless of the school level whether it is high school, middle school or primary school. Some schools offer bus pick-ups shortly after 5:30-6 a.m. that ask students to wake up earlier than that to be at school on time. In the meantime, school days normally ends in the early afternoon around 2-3 p.m. The question is then raised by students, teachers and experts “Is it still wise to apply early school start time or should we start school later?”

 

According to Sleep Foundation, children aged 6-13 should sleep from 9 to 11 hours per day, while teenagers aged 14-17 are recommended to sleep from 8 to 10 hours, with one-hour flexible minus or plus for both categories. That is the recommended sleep duration in order to improve the sleep quality. Nevertheless, daytime activities, changes in the environment, and individual factors can have significant effects on students and pupils’ sleeping patterns and sleeping quality, especially adolescents. A consistent report (Bearpark & Michie, 1987; Petta, Carskadon, & Dement, 1984; Strauch & Meier, 1988) indicates that teenagers do not get enough sleep on school nights, while they extend sleep on weekend nights like a payback for sleep debt. Most explanations for above sleep habit include early school start time, late afternoon/ evening jobs and activities, academic and social constraints.

Early school morning is an externally major pressure on teenagers’ sleep-wake schedule, for most of adolescents are either spontaneous or negotiable to wake up and go to school as early school start time requires tightly available hours for sleep (Wofson & Carskadon, 1998). Szymczak, Jasinska, Pawlak, and Swierzykowska (1993) discovered that Polish students aged 10-14 years old in more than one year slept longer on weekends and during vacations as a consequence of late wake-up. The research also concluded that the school duty schedule was the predominant factor of awakening times for these students. Correspondingly, several surveys of high school students found that students who start school at 7:30 A.M. or earlier obtain less total sleep on school nights due to earlier rise times (Allen, 1991; Allen & Mirabile, 1989; Carskadon & Mancuso, 1988).

“Is it still wise to apply early school start time?” It is a Yes for those morning persons who tend to rise up early in the morning, but not for night persons who tend to stay up late and find it difficult to get up early. Especially adolescents, though their requirement for sleep time is reduced to more or less the recommended sleep time from 7 to 9 hours of young adults (18-25 years old), there is a tendency to stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning comparing to preadolescents (Carskadon, Vieira, & Acebo, 1993; Dahl & Carskadon, 1995). This sleep shift is attributed to psychosocial factors and to biological changes that take place during puberty. In the longitudinal study described above, for instance, children were less likely to wake up on their own when they reach puberty, as the laboratory staff needed to wake them up. Therefore, although sleeping earlier might seem to be the solution, researchers say that isn’t a viable solution as their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep at 8 p.m. even when they’re tired.

Should we start school later?” is a controversial question that some schools decided to change their start time to 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. but some schools stay the same as they did. Those who chose to start school later believe that later morning classes assist teenagers with their natural sleep rhythms by, for example, getting started with less difficult academic tasks and concepts. Those schools as well showed significant improvements in school performance since full rested teenagers have enhanced memory, reaction time, mood and athletic performance. This change hopefully will add a decrease to health-related issues that accompany sleep deprivation and traffic accidents with student involvement. In 2008, a New York Times opinion column on school start times noted that when schools in Jessamine County in Kentucky changed their start times from 7:40 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., “attendance immediately went up, as did scores on standardized tests.”

The disadvantages that schools and administrators have found consist of later start time for extra activities like sports, musical rehearsals, after-school tutoring, etc. that will likely end in the evening. They may face administrative and operational pressures to allocate limited resources and to operate efficiently within their budgets. This does not affect the students and school staffs schedule only but also parents’ schedule, who might have to consider picking up and getting their children to school on time. Nonetheless, there are ones have successfully changed their school start time with better performances and happier students with critical researches results.  Why not consider to start school later?