The Impact of Early School Start Times on Teens


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Since the 1990's, school districts across the country have utilized a tiered bus system and staggered school start times to save money. Based on zero science, high school students were often selected to start the day in the 7:00 o'clock hour. Research now has irrefutably shown that early school start times are detrimental for adolescents. Sleep deprivation among teens is widespread and chronic. Many school boards resist delaying high school start times due to myths and fear of change.

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The Impact of Early School Start Times on Teens

  1. 1. THE IMPACT OF EARLY SCHOOL START TIMES ON TEENS By Debbie O. Moore National Chapter Director, Start School Later, Inc.
  2. 2. History ● In the 1980s, school districts around the country begin experiencing financial constraints while simultaneously experiencing growing student populations. ● Many districts created a 2 or 3-tier busing system to save on transportation costs resulting in staggered school start times. ● The assumption that older students could handle the earliest start times was made based on zero science.
  3. 3. Sleep Research Sleep research in the 1970s discovered: ● Circadian rhythm common to all humans ● An internal mechanism that controls the sleep/wake cycle ● Found that sleep is necessary for tissue growth and repair, emotional control, learning, and the regulation of metabolism ● Sleep prunes our memories of all the day's stimuli and consolidates what's important
  4. 4. Effects of Sleep Loss ● Memory deficits ● Impaired performance and alertness ● Irritability ● Anxiety and depression ● Decreased socialization and humor ● Hyper-sexuality ● Decreased ability to handle complex tasks ● Unintended sleep ● Increased likelihood of stimulants (tobacco, caffeine, alcohol) National Sleep Foundation, 2009, Carskadon, 1990
  5. 5. Adolescent Sleep Cycle ● Sleep research discovered adolescents have a biologically different sleep/wake pattern than pre-adolescents and older adults ● Teens circadian rhythm is delayed ● About 9 hours of sleep is required each night for optimum health ● Melatonin production in teens begins at 11 PM and continues until 8 AM ● Teen brains may be more sensitive to light changes in evening Carskadon, 1995, 1998; National Sleep Foundation, 2009, 2012, 2014
  6. 6. Melatonin ● Hormone of Darkness ● Secreted by gland at base of the brain ● Turns on when brain believes it is nighttime and remains constant through sleep ● Makes us sleepy and signals when it is bedtime ● Affected by light Wahlstrom, 2003
  7. 7. Melatonin Shift in Adolescence ● Released in teens from 11 PM to 8 AM ● Waking a teen at 7:00 AM is comparable to 4:00 AM in an adult ● Developmental not cultural phenomenon condition of adolescence ● International studies conducted produced same results. (Carskadon 1979; National Sleep Foundation, 2009; Wahlstrom, 2003)
  8. 8. University of Minnesota Study ● Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) ● First long-term study measuring impact of later start times of high school on academic achievement ● Edina, suburban district and Minneapolis Public Schools ● Moved start times from 7:30 to 8:30 AM ● Studied work, sleep, and school habits of 12,000 secondary students, over 3,000 teachers, and interview data from 750 parents for 5 years (1997-2001)
  9. 9. CAREI Findings (2001) ● Reduction in dropout rates ● Less depression ● Fewer disciplinary referrals ● Improved attendance ● Improved academic performance ● Fewer tardies ● Less sleeping in class ● Homework completed in less time due to alertness & efficiency ● Increased total sleep ● 92% of parents preferred later times after one year despite earlier concerns of busing, athletics, child care
  10. 10. CAREI 2nd Study (2014) ● First study to examine multiple schools across U.S. ● Eight public high schools, three states (Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota) ● 9000 students ● Three year study funded by CDC ● Switching to later start time confirmed previous study results. ● Increased achievement in math, English, science and social studies. ● Less caffeine consumption. ● 70% reduction of teen car crashes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
  11. 11. Centers for Disease Control 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey ● 70% of all teens are sleep deprived ● 40% of teens get six or fewer hours of sleep per night ● 20% sleep in class Insufficient sleep was associated with 10 health-risk behaviors
  12. 12. Health Risk Behaviors According to the CDC, insufficient sleep was associated with 10 health-risk behaviors: ● cigarette, drug, and alcohol use ● sexual activity ● feeling sad or hopeless ● suicide ideation ● physical fighting ● lack of physical activity ● overuse of computers ● consumption of soft drinks
  13. 13. Additional Health Concerns ● Link between chronic insufficient sleep and obesity (particularly in children) ● Decreased immune function ● Decreased insulin secretion (diabetes) ● Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) ● Pathologically sleepy, falling directly in REM sleep in only 3.4 minutes—a pattern similar to narcolepsy (Carskadon, 1993, 1997)
  14. 14. Weekend Catch-up ● As a result of sleep deprivation, adolescents will try to catch-up during the weekend which results in a jet-lag effect on Monday mornings. This results negatively on academic performance. (Bergin & Bergin, 2009) ● Students who sleep in more than 2 hours on weekends earn lower grades. (Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998)
  15. 15. National Sleep Foundation 2006 Sleep in America poll on “Teens and Sleep” ● Caffeine consumption and teens: 31% drink 2 or more caffeinated beverages per day (coffee, soda, energy drinks) ● Caffeine masks the affects of sleep deprivation and prevents teens from realizing there is a problem ● Teens who drink caffeine get less sleep than those who don't
  16. 16. American Academy of Pediatrics ● The AAP issued a policy statement in August 2014 recommending that all middle & high schools start after 8:30 am. ● Early school start times was identified as the crucial contributor to the epidemic of teen sleep deprivation.
  17. 17. American Medical Association ● AMA June 2016 policy statement calls for all districts to start middle and high schools no earlier than 8:30 AM. ● Encourages physicians to educate teens, parents, and school administrators about adolescent sleep needs. ● “Scientific evidence strongly suggest that allowing adolescents more time for sleep at the appropriate hours results in improvements in health, academic performance, behavior, and general well-being. We believe delaying school start times will help ensure middle and high school students get enough sleep, and that it will improve the overall mental and physical health of our nation's young people.” AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, M.D.
  18. 18. U.S. Air Force Study ● First year cadets (6,000 over 4 years) ● Same classes and same standardized tests ● Class start times ranged from 7:00 to 8:50 AM ● Cadets with classes starting before 8:00 AM performed worse not only on their first period class, but in all of their courses (Carroll, 2011)
  19. 19. Early Start Times and the Disadvantaged ● Wake County, North Carolina study (2011) indicated that disadvantaged students benefit from a later start time at a rate roughly twice as much as their peers. The positive affects persisted all through high school. (Edwards) ● In the Air Force study Carrell concluded that among disadvantaged students, early class performance was reduced by an amount equivalent to having a highly ineffective teacher. ● If a disadvantaged youth misses the bus, he is out for the day. ● A disadvantaged teen, who sleeps through first period geometry can not afford a tutor.
  20. 20. Teens and Auto Accidents ● Fayette County, Kentucky, two-year study, 1998 – crash rates dropped 16.5% when high school start time went from 7:30 am to 8:30 am. – Auto accidents of teens in the rest of state increased 7.8% – A comparable decrease of 24.3% (Danner and Phillips, 2008) ● Virginia, 2007-2008 study of two similar, neighboring districts – 41% higher crash rates in Virginia Beach than in Chesapeake, Virginia where classes started 75 minutes later. (Vorona, 2010)
  21. 21. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ● 100,000 traffic accidents each year due to drowsiness & fatigue. ● Young drivers cause ½ or 50,000 of these crashes. ● Teens are involved in 3 times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. ● Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S. ● 20 studies since 1994 using driving simulators demonstrate drowsy driving impairment equivalent to driving legally drunk.
  22. 22. What the Experts are Saying ● “Almost all teen-agers, as they reach puberty, become walking zombies because they are getting far too little sleep.” A teacher can be delivering the “most stimulating, interesting lecture to sleep deprived kids whose overwhelming drive to sleep replaces any chance of alertness, memory or understanding.” Dr. James Maas, Dept. of Psychology, Cornell ● "Fifty years ago we learned that hungry children don't do well in school. Now we know that sleepy children do not do well in school. Now it is time for us to do something about it." Dr. Joseph Buckhalt, Auburn University. ● “Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners.” Dr. Mary Carskadon, Brown University School of Medicine
  23. 23. With decades of adolescent sleep research, why would any school district continue with high school start times in the 7 o'clock hour?
  24. 24. Excuse 1: Rising Early Teaches Teens Responsibility ● Teen brains are still developing. The developing front cortex is responsible for judgment and reasoning. ● Asking teenagers to deprive themselves of sleep to “prepare” for the real world is like asking toddler to skip their naps to prepare for 5th grade. ● Universities are now offering few early morning sections; some like Duke have eliminated early classes. ● 30% of adults leave their house for work after 8 AM according to the Census Bureau.
  25. 25. Excuse 2: Later Start Times will negatively affect students with part-time jobs. ● For optimal academic performance, high school students should not work more than 15 hours per week. ● In districts across the country, that moved their start times later, employers did not seem to care if students started an hour later. ● The increase of earning potential and quality of life down the road by completing high school outweighs part-time work during high school (Brookings Institute)
  26. 26. Excuse 3: It's Too Expensive to Change ● Brookings Institute 2011 Hamilton Project: Delaying school start times is one of the three most potentially cost-effective ways to boost academic achievement equivalent to two extra months in school. ● Cost to delay bus routes or flip existing sequence of tiered bus system is minimum. ● Consolidating busing to be more efficient has saved some districts money during the switch to a later start time.
  27. 27. Excuse 4: Later school hours will negatively affect extracurricular activities ● American Academy of Pediatrics (2012) reported that adolescent athletes who sleep 8 hours or more were 68% less likely to be injured regardless of amount of participation, number of sports engaged in, strength training, private coaching, etc. ● Stanford Basketball Study (2011) basketball players slept 10 hours a night for a month. Players boosted free-throw and 3-point percentages by 9 percent ● There is no correlation between early start times and great extra-curricular programs. ● The vast majority of students will make their future living through academic abilities not sports and other extracurriculars.
  28. 28. Excuse 5: Teens need early dismissal time to supervise younger siblings ● Who supervises the teens? Many high school students are left home alone between 3 – 6 PM. ● California study (2006): Kids ages 12-17 left unsupervised 3 or more days a week -twice as likely to engage in criminal activity -3 times more likely to smoke pot ● Current later start times for elementary results in children dropped off unattended at school in the 7 o'clock hour. ● Until the work day and the school day are parallel, childcare will always be needed.
  29. 29. Excuse 6: It is safer to start high schools first instead of elementary schools ● It is unsafe for 14-year-old girls to stand on dark corners alone at 6:15 am. ● It's not safe for any child, even a high school student, to walk to school or wait for buses in the dark. ● It is unsafe to send new, sleep-deprived teen drivers out onto roads. ● Age does nothing to make pedestrians more visible to drivers.
  30. 30. Excuse 7: If we start school later, teens will just go to bed later ● Follow up studies of districts that have changed to later start times indicate that students went to bed at the same time each night. ● University of Minnesota landmark study showed that ½ hour later start time resulted in full hour of extra sleep each night for Minneapolis students.
  31. 31. Summary - Concerns ● Part-time jobs, community babysitting, bus scheduling, parental preference are all concerns fueled by a fear of change. ● None of these concerns use “education” in their justification for early start times. ● No research exists that indicates early school times are beneficial to student well being. Decades of research indicate that early start times affect the health of teens.
  32. 32. Wellness Policies ● In 2004, congress recognized that schools play a critical role in promoting student health. As a result all districts were required to establish a school wellness policy. ● Few district wellness policies address the importance of sleep as a necessary component of good health. ● Adolescent sleep should be included in biology and health class curriculum. ● Sleep hygiene information should be discussed at freshman orientation. ● Extra-curricular activities should not run late on school nights.
  33. 33. Options for School Districts ● Delay all school start and end times, so that no school begins before 8 AM ● Return to a “0” hour giving students flexibility ● Change the rotation order of the three-tier bus ● Synchronize all school start and end times ● Move from 3-tier to a 2-tier system by consolidating bus routes allowing middle and high schools to start at the same time ● Utilize latest bus routing software to consolidate time between tiers.
  34. 34. SUMMARY ● Decades of research by sleep scientists, educators, health-care providers, & mental health experts have irrefutably proven that early school start times create a public health issue for all adolescents. ● While it is tempting to blame parents and electronic entertainment, much of teen preference is driven by biology. (Carrell, 2011) ● School start times must be set to provide what is best for the greatest good of all students, not the interests of a few. ● School districts around the country have proven that later school start times are possible. ● State and Federal start time parameters are needed to provide districts the necessary framework to set hours that are consistent with adolescent biology. ● Research indicates that when school start times are changed, communities adjust accordingly. (Wahlstrom, 2003) ● Start times must promote learning rather than interfering with it.
  35. 35. For More Information ● A volunteer national coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours. There are 75 chapters in 25 states. ● A comprehensive website reviewing the impact of school start times on adolescent health and academic performance.
  36. 36. How to Get Involved ● Sign the national petition at Start School Later ● Join a local SSL chapter
  37. 37. Dr. Judith Owens Director of Sleep Medicine Boston Children's Hospital “If you knew that in your child's school there was a toxic substance that reduced the capacity to learn, increased chances of a car crash and made it likely that 20 years from now he would be obese and suffer from hypertension, you'd do everything possible to get rid of that substance and not worry about cost. Early start times are toxic.”