2 February, 2022
The alarm clock goes off. The sky is still dark with no hint of sunshine. Rolling out of bed, she gets ready to go to school. She stumbles into her first class, too tired to even lift her head to look at the board.
Five times a week, students rise before the sun does. The National Sleep Foundation stated that “over 70%” of high school students do not get enough sleep.
According to the CDC, “teenagers aged 13 to 18 years should regularly sleep 8 to 10 hours per day for good health.” Starting school at 7:25 AM creates a major roadblock to accomplishing this nightly goal. Howard County should push back start times to allow for better mental and physical health for students.
“Teens actually need more sleep than their adult counterparts. So if they’re not getting enough hours of sleep, then they aren’t going to be getting the optimal amount of non-REM sleep which can hamper development,” according to AsapSCIENCE, an educational YouTube channel and website that has made videos with numerous names in the science field, like NASA and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. When teens reach puberty, their circadian rhythms (the internal clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle) shifts to naturally fall asleep and wake up later than young children and adults.
According to AsapScience, “asking a teenager to go to bed at 10 PM is like asking an adult to go to sleep at 7:00 PM. In the same vein, waking up at 7:00 AM for a teen is the same as waking up around 4:00 AM for an adult.” Many adults don’t have to get up for work at four in the morning, so why should teens get up before seven every school morning? “Not embracing this biological timing on top of the fact that teens need more sleep to begin with risks developmental brain abnormalities and mental illness.”
The consequence of low amounts of sleep is poor health. The CDC said that adolescents that consistently do not get the proper amount of sleep are susceptible to being overweight, having depression symptoms, and engaging in unhealthy risk behaviors like smoking and drinking.
In addition to negatively affecting physical health, lack of sleep can lead to poor academic performance. According to the Sleep Foundation, starting later can increase school attendance, decrease tardiness, reduce chances of falling asleep in class, and have fewer disciplinary issues.
While there are many benefits of later school start times, there are also some disadvantages that would need to be considered. Some families may rely on older siblings to care for elementary kids. School starting, and therefore ending, later, could make parents rely on a separate source of childcare. In addition, later start times, and therefore later release times, may impact athletic scheduling. Depending on when school ends practices could take place after sundown.
To combat this Howard County can also push back middle and elementary school start times as well to avoid scheduling conflicts. Also, extreme changes are not necessary. Changing high school start times from 7:25 AM to 8:00 AM is enough to allow students an extra half hour or so of sleep while also letting schools out before 3:00pm. The middle and elementary school start times would also be pushed back an additional 35 minutes.
Anne Arundel County schools have already implemented a similar change for the 2022-2023 school year. High schools will now start at 8:30 AM, middle schools between 8:30 and 9:15 AM, and elementary schools between 8:00 and 9:00 AM.
According to ABC WMAR News Baltimore, “The plan requires about 32 more buses to address overcrowding issues and would require renegotiation of agreements with bus contractors.” A similar predicament would likely occur in Howard County, but the benefits far outweigh the potential issues.
In 2016, the Howard County Board of Education met and decided to explore models “where no middle or high school begins before 8:15 AM.” Four models were composed and evaluated the projected cost increase to implement the changes. According to the model, the lowest cost increase was $931, 804.
While there are many obstacles that would have to be overcome to start schools later, the Board of Education should at least reevaluate their prior decision. The positive impacts on students’ mental and physical health are so large it’s worth the additional cost and some schedule rearranging. Proper sleep is essential for success in adolescents. As Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and the University of California, Berkeley Matthew Walker wrote, “When sleep is abundant, minds flourish, when it is deficient, they don’t.”