School should start later

     Do you struggle to get up in the morning for school? Do you ever find yourself tired, unable to concentrate or even falling asleep during class? With most schools beginning their days before 8 a.m., the typical teen struggles to get enough sleep. This lack of rest is a contributing factor to declining academics and a variety of mental and physical health factors that most students experience daily. 

     According to the Directors of Public Health Preparedness (DPHP), 46% of high schools in the U.S. that begin classes before 8 a.m. are filled with teenagers who have not received the eight or more hours of rest that millennials need. 

     As young brains develop, sleep patterns change. Sleep researchers call this the development of an evening-type circadian phase preference. The rest of us call this becoming a night owl. 

     Sleep patterns affect a wide range of mental and physical health conditions. In the past, many districts that have delayed their schools’ start times have promoted the educational benefits but have not highlighted the public health issues associated with students’ sleep. But times have changed, and we know better now. The American Academy of Pediatrics has conducted studies that have now clearly shown links between insufficient sleep and obesity, diabetes, depression and more. Experts are still working to determine what exactly links sleep patterns to so many health conditions, but it appears to be related to the production of hormones that regulate satiety and mood.

     In many regions of the U.S., leaving for school by 7 a.m. during winter months means ice, snow and overall dangerous driving conditions, especially for sleep-deprived teen drivers. This is a recipe for disaster that results in tragedy far too often.

     The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers, and drowsy driving may be a factor in 10-20 percent of serious crashes.

     The Teton County School Board in Wyoming decided to delay Jackson Hole High School’s start time to 8:55 a.m. in an experiment to measure the effects of later start times. Over a two-year trial period, teen car accidents dropped by 70%. By putting students’ safety and wellness first, Teton and an increasing number of other districts have decided to delay their schools’ start times and have benefitted from doing so.

     Clearly, there is a simple solution to these common issues. By delaying our schools’ start time, students will be able to not only get the rest they need to improve their academics, but they will come to school healthier and safer than ever before.