Schools Should Start Later When Teen Brains Are Ready To Learn   

Schools Should Start Later When Teen Brains Are Ready To Learn   

There’s a reason teens are nodding off in class, and it’s not just that last lecture on polynomials. They’re sleepy. And a reason why they’re sleepy is that school starts too damn early.

For years, people have pushed for later school start times for middle and high school students, who’ve been dragging their bodies into the school ground as early as 7am. In short, school schedules aren’t synchronised to adolescent biology.

While most little kids are early risers by nature, a shift occurs in the sleep-wake cycle at puberty, and most teens get their best sleep between 11pm and 8am. So when a student has to wake up at 6am to catch the bus, that’s a loss of two or more hours of unrecoverable sleep each day. As one study put it, “a 7am alarm call for older adolescents is the equivalent of a 4:30am start for a teacher in their 50s.”

That, of course, can lead to problems associated with inefficient sleep, including depression, obesity, migraines, and a weakened immune system. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to be involved in car accidents and engage in risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking and drug abuse.

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Of course, there are hurdles to cross — some are worried that later start times would leave little time for extracurriculars, or that the shift would make parents late to work. In the US, advocacy group Start School Later has responses to just about any concern you can think of.

Parents should do their part, too, by enforcing screen time limits and helping their kids get better sleep.


  • Would they have problems when they enter the workforce if they aren’t used to waking up for office hours?

    • Good question. As the adolescent body readjusts, and the body changes to become an adult, it’s able to become more flexible with the hours it can handle. During adolescence, the body’s “working hours” are quite rigid.

      • I’m not so sure about that. I know I was quite happy waking up early and doing stuff *if* I wanted to do it. I’d get up early to play tennis before school started for example. I actually found it much harder to get myself up for work because it was never enjoyable. Maybe in hindsight I should have tried to schedule something like tennis before work to give myself that *enjoyable* reason to get up.

        I’d like to know whether that study in the article actually considers why the teens get better sleep between 11-8? Is there a reason or is it just “this is what we found”?

  • I never had school start as early as 7am…the earliest I ever started was 8am (“Period 0” in Year 11/12). Regardless, I loved to sleep in if I had a choice to (like on weekends) but I never really had any issue getting out of bed in the morning for school.

  • One of the things kids need to learn at school age is to harden up.
    So I support an early start.

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