Is it Time to Move our Start Time?

Aidan Chappuis, Journalist

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Some of the members within the EHS Student Council believe that EHS should move to a later start time. A large and growing body of research has found that most teenagers suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, routinely often getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, while the recommended amount is around 9 hours. This continuous assault on their health has profound negative and even deadly consequences, including increased rates of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, athletic injuries, depression and suicide, and car accidents. Car accidents alone account for 35% of deaths among teenagers, and research has suggested that an hour change in start times can decrease them by more than 16%.

Start times also have a huge effect on academic performance. Schools that have moved to later start times have seen large increases in student attention, GPA, state test scores, participation, and graduation rates, a narrowing of  the achievement gap, and have seen large decreases in irritability, rule-breaking, and tardiness and absence. This data is indisputable proof that making start times later will improve academic performance at EHS.

Moreover, students cannot simply get more sleep. Research has shown that, in teenagers, the normal drive for sleep after a long time awake weakens compared to younger kids or adults. At the same time the normal circadian rhythm, which times sleep cycles to the day, moves forward several hours. This means that teenagers naturally go to bed around 11:00, and get up around 8:00 in the morning, several hours later than younger kids or adults, a change referred to as the delayed phase preference. It also means that teenagers cannot simply go to bed earlier. Even if they somehow manage to, and get 9 hours of sleep a night (which would require a bedtime of a little after 9:00, and would be impossible for many people), this would still conflict with the natural circadian rhythm and  would still cause tiredness. The only solution is to get up later in the morning, which requires later start times. Due to these issues, the American Physiological Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, CDC, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and innumerable other organizations support later start times.

In the face of overwhelming medical and sociological evidence of the negative effects of early school start times on students’ studies, health, and lives, as well as on society at large, there is simply no excuse to maintain them, even if a change may cause logistical issues. While transportation can be an issue, switching the high school and elementary school bus times, to move the earlier transport times to a group that naturally gets up around those times, would solve many problems. Parents may have issues getting kids to school, but no more so than for elementary schoolers, and if some children must get themselves to school, it is better for those children to be reasonably independent high schoolers.

After-school sports and extracurriculars would also be an issue, but they simply do not justify the current situation, as many students do not play them and should not have to pay in their future career success, health, and lives for those who do. Practices can be moved later, and the loss of instruction time for games during the day would almost certainly be outweighed by the greater focus and learning wrought by later start times. Most activities after school do not start before 3:00 or 4:00, and therefore students could still do them. While there would undoubtedly be logistical issues and costs, they can be worked out, and in many cases the increased costs are still less than for things like smaller class sizes designed to improve academic performance.

Changing the start time at EHS would better for students. Although there will be some administrative difficulties in making the change, we believe they will be worth it for such a huge increase in student health and academic performance.

AASM position: Delaying middle school, high school start times is beneficial to students