Should High Schools Start Later?

Many districts are delaying the start of the school day to help teens get more sleep. Should all schools be required to do the same?

Kids and parents hold a “sleep in” to protest early school start times in Rockville, Maryland

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. during the school week. I need the outrageously early wake-up call because I have to catch the bus at 6 a.m. to make it to my high school before the first bell rings promptly at 7:20 a.m. I’m definitely not the only teen awake at that hour. Many school districts start first thing in the morning—some as early as 7 a.m.! But if schools changed their start time so that students were able to arrive even just a little later, teens would be much more active and productive throughout the day.

With school starting early, it’s impossible for students to get enough sleep because homework keeps us up late. By the time I’m done working on assignments and in bed, it’s often already midnight! This means I get only five of the recommended nine hours of sleep, which leaves me feeling groggy in the morning and unprepared to take on the day—especially when I have trigonometry first thing. I’ve managed to keep an A in the class thanks to dutiful studying, but it’s at the cost of losing sleep.

As teens, our biological clock is set so that we naturally stay awake later at night and wake up later in the morning. Why not match school start times with our biological clock? Plus, studies show that a delayed start could increase students’ grades and attention spans. I’ve seen the promising results firsthand. Whenever my school has a scheduled one-hour late start, my peers and I become way more productive than we usually are.

I’d love to be able to set my alarm for later in the morning. The delayed start time could help me and my peers feel better, and I bet that our report cards would benefit from the change too.

Like most teenagers, I often wish that I could get more sleep. But is pushing back high school start times the answer? I don’t think it is. Yes, we want to feel well rested, but what’s really hindering the chance to have a full night’s sleep is homework, not the time the first bell rings.

High school students are often so overloaded with homework that it’s simply not possible to get enough sleep. At school, I’m assigned hours of homework from multiple teachers. Because of this, I typically don’t finish my work until 11 p.m. or midnight. If teachers would take this into consideration and communicate with each other, they might be able to stagger the distribution of homework assignments. Then students would be able to go to bed earlier, resolving the sleep crisis without needing to change the schedule.

Keep in mind that this argument is coming from someone who loves sleeping in when I have the chance. Even so, I think we need to direct our focus to the real problem—the fact that teens are assigned way too much homework these days. Once we get teachers to cut back on the number of assignments, we will all get more sleep!

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