Oseye Boyd

Whether they’re ready or not, thousands of students will start the new school year this week. Even more return next week. 

For many the start of a new school year means many students will return (with dread) to a strictly adhered to bedtime schedule. Granted, this schedule becomes more fluid with age, as the amount of homework and the number of activities in which a student is involved increase. Parents become more flexible in allowing students to stay up late finishing homework or studying for a major test.

That’s pretty much the life of a high schooler: late nights and early mornings. However, they’re certainly not living their best life — at least not it when it comes to getting the sleep their bodies require.

I’ve been here before with my oldest and am here again with my youngest. We demand teens can keep these hectic schedules, stay up until 11 p.m. or later and rise at 6 a.m. — or earlier — and not be fatigued. It’s a schedule that would kick the butts of most adults, so how do we expect our teens to handle it?

I did a quick search of public high schools in Marion County to see what time they start this year. Of the 11 I checked, eight start before 7:30 a.m. The earliest is 7:10 a.m. Only one school starts at 9 a.m., and two other high schools start at 8:50 a.m. I checked township and IPS schools. I consider myself a mid-morning person, so I would be hard pressed to make it to work by 7:10 a.m. every morning. And, I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. most nights.

The staying up late isn’t the problem for teens. It’s the waking up early. It goes against their natural circadian rhythm, or internal body clock. The hormone in the brain that helps us fall asleep at night is released later in teens than it is in pre-adolescent children and adults. See, teens aren’t lazy! Their bodies are just wired to sleep in late.

Research suggests having a later school start time could improve academic performance, overall attitude, physical and mental health and keep teens more engaged in school. 

According to the Child Trends and Children’s National Health System, moving school start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8 a.m. could result in an average of 17 more minutes of sleep each night — even when the teen went to bed 15 minutes later! 

In addition, the lack asleep could have more severe consequences than a tired student getting detention for falling asleep in class. Drinking alcohol, tobacco and drug use and being overweight as well as poor academic performance are all potential risk factors when our children don’t get enough sleep. 

As a parent, I’m concerned about all of the risk factors mentioned above, but I’m also concerned about my teen driving sleepy to school. Thankfully, I’m not there yet, but I will be really, really soon, and we live pretty close to the school, but what about children who must drive a distance? Do school officials think that the earlier start time reduces the risk of a car accident because fewer cars are on the road in the morning?

This brings me to the main question: Why are our children still starting school so early?

It’s not as if educators don’t have this research. If students can gain so much with just a few more minutes of sleep and a later start time then why hasn’t it happened yet? 

I imagine one of the reasons is changing the high school start time will have a ripple effect for middle and elementary school start times as there are only so many buses to go around. Parents don’t want young children at the bus stop early in the morning. I get that. I don’t want my 15-year-old at the bus stop at 6:40 a.m. either. I’m nervous regardless of her age. 

I realize changing start times won’t be an easy feat, school districts have a lot of considerations and there will always be pushback, but it’s a move that makes sense. Especially for our high schoolers who have so much at stake.

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