The beginning of fall heralds the semi-annual changing of the clocks. This “spring ahead, fall back” ritual has special implications for teens, whose high school classes usually begin shortly after the cocks crow. While those waiting at the bus stop before 7 am may welcome the earlier dawn, most will be operating with less than the recommended nine hours of restful sleep. Research conducted over the past thirty years has demonstrated that starting school later has many benefits for teens, so the question remains: Why have so few school systems heeded these findings for the sake of their students? Arne Duncan, US Secretary of State for Education, tweeted in 2013: ‘let teens sleep, start school later.’” Six years later, very few school systems have heeded his advice.

The circadian rhythms of teens differs from those of adults. The natural tendency for teens (given the opportunity) is to stay awake much later at night and, consequently, to sleep later in the morning.   In late adolescence, the conflict between social time and biological time is greater than at any point in our lives. . . . Adults need to be educated to adjust to another significant change in adolescents during puberty: a major biological shift in their sleep patterns.   

Teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, so learning is clearly affected because sleep has a critical role in long-term memory.  The most apparent results in early morning classes include sleepiness and inattentiveness. A recent review cited studies showing that restricted sleep was associated with impaired immune response, metabolic disorders, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, depression and obesity. 

Altering the school starting times leads to fewer motor vehicle accidents, less sleeplessness in class, and enhanced learning. The American education system should no longer adhere to the demands of an agrarian calendar. Change the high school starting times for the health and well being of teens!


Laura Maniglia