Early school start times hamper education, health


Graphic by Natalie Bandura '22

While the recommended start time for middle and high schools is after 8:30 a.m., Staples, among countless other schools across the US, starts classes an hour earlier. This leads to chronic sleep deprivation in students, which can cause a litany of adverse effects, including a weaker immune system and poor academic performance.

Natalie Bandura '22, Paper News Editor

We’ve all been in this situation before: you are taking a test, but no matter how much you try to concentrate, it takes all of your willpower to simply keep your eyes open. Despite knowing the material– you studied a lot yesterday and even went to bed at a reasonable time– you find yourself slumping in your chair, lethargically fingering your pencil as the clock ticks away. Letters and numbers fade into blobs of grey, all you can think about is how much you wish you had your pillow with you.

While this may seem like an exaggeration of what mornings are like for Staples students, unfortunately, this is often the reality with classes that start at 7:30 a.m. and buses that come to students’ streets as early as 6:44 a.m. The issue of school start times has not been examined since former Superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer retired last year, but it is essential that we bring it back into discussion so that the school administration takes action to address it.

According to cdc.gov, middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. in order for students to get enough sleep, but Time.com reports that about 70% of high school students receive only 7 hours of sleep, if not less.

Unlike what is often assumed about teenagers, a tendency to go to sleep late is not the sole factor conducive to their lack of sleep. Even if an adolescent attempts to fall asleep sooner, his circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep cycles, starts sending out sleep signals at around 11 p.m., and allows for full wakefulness later in the morning (Sleepfoundation.org). This is due to the secretion of the hormone melatonin occuring at a later time for adolescents than for children or adults, according to Neurology Times.

While it is true that Staples students have dealt with our current school schedule for many years and may outwardly seem to be doing alright, there is a litany of adverse effects associated with chronic sleep loss. Among them, Healthline lists, is a decrease in school performance as well as an increase in obesity, a weaker immune system, higher blood pressure, a greater risk for diabetes and heart disease and an elevated potential for accidents due to the combination of a lack of balance and concentration.

In light of these health issues, Westport resident Christine Meiers Schatz founded the nonprofit Sleep for Success to inform residents about the topic. She also urges them to sign a petition to the Westport Board of Education that would commission a third party bus study and determine what must be done to implement later WPS start times. If more residents or students sign a petition such as this, or otherwise appeal to the BOE to revisit the school start time issue, we will be more likely to make a difference.

Unlike what is often assumed about teenagers, a tendency to go to sleep late is not the sole factor conducive to their lack of sleep.”

— Natalie Bandura '22

In spite of the multitude of benefits of later start times, some believe that they are impractical  due to the many scheduling changes this would result in, such as bus timetables and after-school activities. However, none of these concerns are ones that cannot be solved.

 If all WPS schools across the board (high, middle and elementary) adopt a later start time, bus schedules would simply shift, rather than have to be entirely reorganized. And although a later start would correspond to a delayed finish, sending students home late from after-school activities, even if they are forced to go to bed at a later time, would still result in more sleep because the schedule would be more aligned with their circadian rhythm.

For many students, later school start times are a daydream that seems unlikely to occur; however, sleep deprivation is an impediment that is affecting our health and our education. If we don’t stand up to make a change in the system, there is nobody else who will do it for us.