Teens Should Start School as Late as 11am, Study Says

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A report published in journal Learning, Media and Technology suggests that the natural sleep patterns of children do not match up with the early start times of the schools that they attend.

Researchers from Harvard and Oxford discussed their findings in the report, “Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘let teens sleep, start school later.’”  Co-authors Paul Kelley, Steven W. Lockley, Russell G. Foster, and Jonathan Kelley suggest that the biological settings within children have them programmed for a later wake up time.  They argue that 10-year-old children should be starting their school day at 8 am, 16-year-old students should start around 10 or 10:30 am, and the school day for 18-year-olds should start between 11 and 11:30 am.

The report continues to say that later start times do not reflect laziness within children, but rather a biological necessity.  Using evidence from studies conducted around the world, the co-authors maintain that a later start time for the school day would cause students to learn more, perform better on exams, and possibly have more positive attitudes, writes Libby Nelson for Vox.

Samplings taken from across the United States support these findings.  Eighth-grade students in North Carolina who started their school day one hour later than students in the same district performed better on tests, with the extra sleep time being especially helpful for low-scoring students.  These effects continued through high school.

Another study found positive changes in attendance, achievement, behavior and mood when Minneapolis Public Schools decided to change their start time from 7:15 am to 8:40 am.  In addition, 92% of parents interviewed said they enjoyed the time change because their children tended to be happier and easier to live with.

Although policymakers and legislators have been making the argument for later start times for schools for years, the American Academy of Pediatrics still suggests a start time of 8:30 am.  However, researchers argue in the new study that this is too early for teenagers.

And yet most schools across the country start even earlier than this, with an average start time of 8:03 am.  The co-authors suggest that this could be a cultural phenomenon.

“A common belief is that adolescents are tired, irritable and uncooperative because they choose to stay up too late, or are difficult to wake in the morning because they are lazy. Educators tend to think that adolescents learn best in the morning and if they simply went to sleep earlier, it would improve their concentration. … The truth is that adults need to be educated,” the report states.