July 5th, 2010
04:01 PM ET

Small delay in school start times=big benefits

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents, according to a study published in JAMA's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"Ranging from the amount of sleep they were getting, to self-reported sleepiness, to self-reported depressed mood to tardiness, the study demonstrates you can make a positive impact with relatively small change in start time, " said lead study author Dr. Judith A. Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorder center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), most adolescents experience biological changes to their internal clocks during this transition from childhood to adulthood. Those changes often cause them to fall  asleep later. When those young people must awake early for school, they don't get the 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep their bodies need.

In addition, a 2006 poll by the NSF found that nearly one-half of adolescents in America were getting less than eight hours of sleep, and many reported that they were aware they were getting less sleep than they needed to feel their best.

In the current study, researchers looked at just over 200 students in grades nine-12 at a private school. The students took a survey, both before and after the school start time was changed from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to find out about sleep-related problems and both sleep and wake behaviors.

Overall, the number of students who reported feeling unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated decreased. Also, fewer found themselves at the health center for fatigue-related concerns.

"If you really need nine hours, and you're only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference," Owens said. She says future studies should include looking at academic performance.

"There are a lot of schools around the country at least contemplating doing this. I think it would be very important for these schools to make an effort to systematically examine the impact- whether that's positive or negative, because we need to have the data to show to schools who are thinking about doing this, because it's not a trivial challenge from an operational standpoint. There are a lot of issues to be resolved. We need to have strong enough evidence that it has a positive beneficial effect in order to recommend this- that other schools do the same thing," she added.

Owens noted that the school in the study did not go back to their 8 a.m. start time, as originally intended.

soundoff (230 Responses)
  1. SamR

    people keep making the "kids are lazy" or the "kids need to go to bed earlier" arguments because they have been socialized by the same oppressive school system that this article is about, and so they defend it from change without knowing why they do so. school is miserable, just like work is miserable – school isn't really about learning – if it was, it would be set up very differently – it is about preparing children for a artificial, oppressive, and miserable work environment – where someone tells you what to do, where to be, tells you to do repetitive, meaningless tasks that don't have any meaning to you, without any creative input from you – that is work for most people (not all). and so our educational system has evolved to prepare kids for that – school is like this too. if kids had a pleasant and meaningful experience in school, they would be outraged when they had to do all they crap and get exploited like they do at work, so we spend 12 years getting them ready for the soul-sucking experience so that it seems normal or at least expected to them.

    you can see twisted reflections of this in the comments by people saying stuff like "blah blah blah ... adults have to get up early because their employers tell them to – we can't coddle the kids – they need to be ready for the real world ... blah blah blah"

    this is why school starts early, even though it makes learning harder. this is why kids have so much HW, even though studies are clear that only a little, if any HW, is helpful, and the amount that kids actually have impedes learning greatly.

    school is supposed to be miserable and soul-sucking, and it is not about learning – that is why we have all these resistive comments, and why the schools will not change because of this conclusive study.


    July 6, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Hear, hear! Unfortunately I accidentally clicked 'report abuse' instead of reply the first time around...totally unintentional, sorry! I hope this comment doesn't get deleted because of that. If it does, please repost...it should be up here.

      July 6, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse |
    • Govner

      Whatever! Start school later in the day and kids will go to bed later at night or earlier in the morning and still not be rested enough. The fact that you hate your job has nothing to with this article...

      July 6, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
  2. Govner

    How about responsible parents making sure their kids go to be at a reasonable hour so they can get up well rested the next morning. When I was in school I had a "bed time" enforced by my parents everynight to ensure I got enough sleep for school the next day. My own son has a bed time every night to ensure he gets enough sleep to be ready for school every day. How about responsible parenting being the key to ensuring kids are able to give 100% in school and everything else they set as a goal? Compared to other industrialized nations we are fairly nonaggressive when it comes to our children's education.

    July 6, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Unfortunately, enforcing a bed time (for adolescents) is ineffective. Lots of people already have testified that even with bed times, they would stay up tossing and turning and missing out on sleep anyway.

      July 6, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  3. Govner

    Really? Because it is very effective for my adolescent. He gets to stay up later on the weekends and he sleeps in later. During the week he goes to bed earlier and gets up earlier. But then he also isn't allowed to playing video games everyday or watch high-action oriented films during the week so he is overstimulated while trying to go to bed. Parents need to take responsibility for the education of their children plain and simple, but most would rather complain that the schools are to blame when their children are not doing well...

    July 6, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ashley

      Well, Govner, how about this... I didn't have internet, cell phone, etc., maintained a 4.0 average in the most difficult classes my school offered, had a part time job, participated in every activity known to man (which culminated in me receiving many scholarhips) and still could not go to bed at a decent time. I wasn't overstimulated by high action movies and video games (this makes me laugh- as a girl, I wasn't even interested in either of those things) and yet, for some reason, my brain still wouldn't shut down at night so I could sleep. Setting a bed time worked for your child? Big whoop. I guess you both deserve a medal *insert eye roll here.* To assume that this one case applies to the entire population is ludicrous.

      Katie, don't waste your time trying to argue with people like this. He's just showing his lack of education and intelligence.

      July 6, 2010 at 18:45 | Report abuse |
  4. Katie

    That is very true, that many parents would blame the school system instead of taking responsibility for raising their child...I've seen several comments to that effect already and it definitely shows a certain ignorance about school responsibility and policy (for example, blaming teachers for things that are out of their control and actually in the hands of the school administrators).
    But I think people also need to realize that there are certain things about teenage biology and chemistry that can't be "fixed" into today's standards and those people need to agree to make improvements which will help adolescent students. It seems a lot to me like teaching styles. People recognize that students all learn differently and teachers are typically encouraged to match appropriate teaching styles to their pupils...why can't we do the same thing with this?

    July 6, 2010 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    As a rising junior with a 4.0 gpa, I work hard at school and have multiple afterschool activities. On an average school day I wake up at 6 and remain at school until 5 when I come home and have about 3 hours of school work. On busy days I wake up at 5:30 and sometimes don't make it home until 8. On weekends I crash because I'm too exhausted to do anything fun. The days when I get up at 6 can concentrate better and I can actually enjoy my free time.
    It would be easy for my school system to let high schoolers start later. They would just have to switch the high school and elementary school start times. Older kids would find it easier to do homework later at night than the elementary and middle school students who currently have to stay up to finish homework. The only reason my county gives for not setting the change in motion is they don't want to delay sports practice. I think sports are important, but having students enjoy school instead of making themselves sick from exhaustion seems like a more important priority.

    July 6, 2010 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Shaz

    Pushing back school times will not just help students stay alert longer but also reduce stress levels of parents. It's a win-win situation that should be implemented.

    HealthCrowd Blog

    July 6, 2010 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. BRUCE

    Great! Another left wing nut job article on how to make the kids of today less responsible for their actions!!! Funded by the teaches unions no doubt!!

    The one thing you forgot is how much is this going to cost us? Democrats never do anything with education that they don't scream " for the children's sake" we need more money!!!!!

    We have one the highest priced and one of the worst education systems in the world now., I'm sure this plan will solve all that and make the US once again a leader.... with further dumbed down children who can't even write by the time they graduate.

    Yes children don't despair. There are people on the left that will buy your reasoning for not wanting to get up because they know if you graduate stupid you can still vote!!

    July 6, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ashley

      Bruce, it has nothing to do with being on "the left." Are you daft? Science blows your theory out of the water (it's already been proven that teenagers, as well as many adults, have circadian rhythm disorders). Oh, but that's right. Republicans don't believe in science or facts. I forgot.

      July 6, 2010 at 22:45 | Report abuse |
    • hope

      I agree that the US doesn't have the best educational system in the world today and that something has to be done to improve it. But starting school later wouldn't cost any more money at all then it does to have school start when it does now. School would still be the same amount of time, students would still be learning the exact same things, it's just that the time would start later in the morning and go later into the day. Same amount of hours. Same cost.

      July 7, 2010 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
  8. Ashley

    Another thing... Are you implying that all scientists and doctors are liberal? Well then you better thank your fellow liberals for most of the modern conveniences you enjoy :). Also, please tell me that you realize being a night owl (i.e., struggling to wake up in the morning) has absolutely no correlation with I.Q.? You are right about one thing though. America's educational system must be in the crapper if it produces people like you.

    July 6, 2010 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. hope

    What I don't think some of you people posting understand is that if the schools start later, they'll also get out later. It's not that there will be less schol hours, it would just go later into the day.

    I'm a high school student now. I'm an honor student. I have a zero hour class, also. I get up at about 5:30 in the morning to make it to my 6:45 AM class five days a week. This is also going to be earlier, as my school has moved up the starting time of the school. I go to school for a full schedule, and I also have college classes while still in high school. I have a job which I work five days a week starting from the time I get out of school. Then I'm up until around nine or ten doing my homework.

    I could try to go to sleep at nine at night. But it just doesn't happen. I'd be laying in bed for hours before I'd be able to sleep. So for those people who are sayin that this is unreasonable... it's really not. It's not coddling kids at all. It's research that is going to help students learn better, because face it: us going to school half asleep isn't really goin to help us learn anything at all.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Clara

    I find it amusing that people are getting up in arms and blaming the parents/school system for a mere half hour time delay. I think the delay would benefit students. When I was in middle/high school, pre-social networking sites, I had a horrendous time trying to fall asleep (no, I did not have a TV in my room) and would be in bed reading for hours before I'd feel remotely sleepy. When I was in elementary school I was out cold by 9pm and up, by my own provocation, at 7 a.m for school that did not start until 9! An additional 30 minutes would not cultivate laziness, it might actually encourage students to work harder, as they know they have that extra time to complete homework.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jo

    The elementary school kids should start the earliest – that would be the best for working parents. High school students could start later and get themselves up and there on time. In the area i live – the youngest kids start the latest 9am (most parents have to be in work way before 9am, so that means before school arrangements. ) and the high school kids start after 7:30am – I know as a working parent i would like that switched....they say its all about the bus schedules.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lorraine

    I agree not by much 30 minutes. I saw a great improvement with my son last year when the school he attended
    went from starting at 7:50 to 8:35. Those 30 minutes made a big difference.

    July 12, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Hannah, 15

    Alright, i need to set you straight. there are dozens of teens like me who are too poor to afford video games or and kind of tech, and, even though i DON'T have all those things, i still lay down at about 8:45 for bed, i have to get up at 5:30 every morning for school, and i'm still exhausted. But, sometimes, i lay down at 9-ish, and i'm just laying there, twittling my thumbs until at least 10:30. i go to school, go to my part-time job, come home, do my homework and chores, and i have to do all that by 8 so i can have at least an hour to relax and craft/paint before bed. do not blame tech because sometimes, it has nothing to do with the problem. the only time i can realy get on a computer is at school, and that's just for a little while. they need to do more in-depth feild work on this subject before people start making assumptions and blaming the parents, the technology, or the kids. sometimes, you just CAN'T go to sleep at the right time for the right duration. it's almost impossible when you have a job, chores, have go to school, have homework to do, and financial problems to worry about. but hey, that's just my opinion. you can love it or hate it, either way, you're thinking about it.

    December 21, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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