Research demonstrates that school starting later is good for adolescents. It can give them more time to sleep and even improve test scores.
Nevertheless, school starting later does have some downsides. Parents need to get their children off to school early so they can go to work and earn money for their families.
Here are my top 10 reasons why school should start later.
- Helps students focus
- Caters to their natural sleep timetable
- Reduce the risk of car accidents
- Reduces risky behavior
- Improves information retention
- Helps teens feel happier
- Improves attendance
- Reduces stress
- Increases breakfast consumption
- Caters to their needs
There are a number of reasons school should start later, and it’s not just because the teenagers are being lazy and want to sleep in. The rest of this article will address the scientific reasons defending a later start for schools.
Don’t miss the other side of the debate: Reasons School Should Start Earlier!
Reasons Why School should Start Later
1. School Helps Students Focus
One of the primary reasons school should start later is that it helps them focus. For students who are naturally inclined to stay up late and sleep in, going to school earlier can disrupt their circadian rhythm, diminishing their capacity to retain information.
What teachers often mistake for laziness is often the student’s body being negatively impacted by an unnatural biological cycle, compounding in a lack of focus on schoolwork.
In fact, a study by Lufi et al. (2011) found that an extra hour of sleep for adolescents significantly increased their attention levels on the “Mathematics Continuous Performance Test”.
By contrast, students that have a hard time focusing are also often singled out for misbehavior, which can affect their self-perception and make them less inclined to put in effort at school.
2. Caters to Their Natural Sleep Schedule
Another important reasons why school should start later is that a later start is better for students’ natural sleep cycle.
Especially for teenagers, the tendency is to stay up late and sleep longer, needing 8.5-9.5 hours to be fully rested. For a student who goes to bed at 11p.m., they would need to sleep until 7:30-8:30a.m. to be fully rested, a time frame when most schools have already started.
At the end of the day, better sleep means better performance in school. Students who feel refreshed in the morning are more likely to be optimistic about the day’s work and more receptive to learning.
3. Reduces the Risk of Car Accidents
Aside from improving student learning, a longer rest period for students who drive reduces the risk of car accidents.
For teens who are just learning how to drive, adding on an early school start is just a recipe for disaster. Teenagers make up over 50% of all car accidents that involve fatalities, and it certainly makes one wonder just how many of them are caused by sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep slows down motor reflexes (Taheri & Arabameri, 2012) and makes a driver far more likely to make an error in judgement and cause an accident. Paired with their biological need to sleep longer, teens who start school earlier are more likely to get into accidents in the morning.
4. Reduces Other Risky Behaviors
Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely to engage in any risky behaviors, not just driving dangerously.
While, of course, there are other factors that contribute to adolescent risk-taking (not least of which is an underdeveloped brain), there’s no denying that sleep-deprived students aren’t using their mental faculties to full effect when it comes to risky decision making.
Switching to a later start time can help students, especially teenagers, feel more rested, emotionally stable, and less sleep-deprived so that they maximize their chances of making intelligent decisions.
5. Improves Information Retention
As well as helping students focus in the classroom environment, a later school start helps students retain information during class, especially those first and second period classes getting into the swing of the day.
Retaining information requires a lot of brainpower, something that students might struggle to conjure up if they are sleep-deprived.
A later start gives students more time to prepare themselves mentally for the day of learning ahead, helping them retain more information along the way.
One of the most extensive systematic reviews of the literature on school start times found that mid- to long-term memory retention is mildly improved with increased sleep in adolescents (Marx et al., 2017).
6. Helps Teens Feel Happier
When school starts early, teenagers can feel as though their natural circadian rhythm is off all the time, negatively affecting their mood and sense of well-being.
In fact, well-being is one of the most positive outcomes from research on late school start times (Marx et al., 2017).
Anecdotally, teenagers seem to be inclined to go to bed later (perhaps due to less self-governing abilities than adults). They also tend to need longer periods of rest than adults because they are going through significant physical and cognitive changes.
With that in mind, a later start to school is more in line with their biological needs and can positively affect their happiness.
7. Improved Attendance (Potentially)
Students who struggle in school or don’t see the merit in education often have a hard time motivating themselves to work hard, or even attend school at all.
When classes begin before 8:00, which is common in most schools, students on the periphery may feel more inclined to skip first period altogether to catch up on their sleep.
Starting a little later removes that concern and helps students who are struggling to motivate themselves take a little more time in the morning to prepare for the day ahead.
8. Reduced Stress
In a similar vein, students face a lot of stress that can negatively affect their performance in school, and the prospect of starting school so early is yet another factor that may contribute to stress in their lives.
Starting school later may on a case-by-case basis reduce stress, especially when it comes to attending first period. For example, the systematic review by Marx et al. (2017) found that some research shows that children often “are less tense at home, and school nurses have reported fewer stress-related complaints and illnesses.”
9. They Eat More Breakfast
A later school starting time may mean students will consume more breakfast.
Marx et al’s (2017, p. 13) systematic review found that some evidence points toward this outcome:
“There has been some indication (especially in Wahlstrom 2002) that students in later starting schools eat breakfast more often.”
Of course, intuitively this makes sense. They will have more time in the morning to prepare for school, meaning there is extra space in the day to allow young people to prepare and eat their breakfast.
The benefits of eating breakfast are vast – including heart health, better memory retention, and more stable moods.
10. Caters to Their Needs
Lastly, and in summation, starting school later than 8:00 helps cater to what the students want and need.
Most students would prefer not to have to run through the routine of preparing for school early in the morning if they could start later, and for teenagers especially, starting later could be a way to address their wants and needs.
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There are a number of reasons school should start later than it does, and most students would jump at the chance to shift their first period back by just an hour. Starting school later helps students get a better night’s sleep, focus on their classwork, and improves their chances of success.
Other Debate Topics
Bowers, J. M., & Moyer, A. (2017). Effects of school start time on students’ sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, and attendance: a meta-analysis. Sleep health, 3(6), 423-431.
Lufi, D., Tzischinsky, O., & Hadar, S. (2011). Delaying school starting time by one hour: some effects on attention levels in adolescents. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 7(2), 137-143.
Marx, R., Tanner‐Smith, E. E., Davison, C. M., Ufholz, L. A., Freeman, J., Shankar, R., … & Hendrikx, S. (2017). Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well‐being of high school students: a systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 13(1), 1-99.
Taheri, M., & Arabameri, E. (2012). The effect of sleep deprivation on choice reaction time and anaerobic power of college student athletes. Asian journal of sports medicine, 3(1), 15.
Wahistrom, K. (2002). Changing times: Findings from the first longitudinal study of later high school start times. Nassp Bulletin, 86(633), 3-21. Widome, R., Berger, A. T., Iber, C., Wahlstrom, K., Laska, M. N., Kilian, G., … & Erickson, D. J. (2020). Association of delaying school start time with sleep duration, timing, and quality among adolescents. JAMA pediatrics, 174(7), 697-704.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.