Trib Talk: Experts argue for later school start times for healthier teens
Even if your teen climbs in bed at 9, she’ll likely toss and turn until 11 p.m. And she won’t really wake up until 8 the next morning, recent studies suggest.
So schools should start later, advocates say. But that means a change up in bus schedules, after-school jobs, clubs and sports. It would also shift adult work days and could require more childcare.
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Kristen Moulton wrote about the issue earlier this month. It’s the subject of this week’s Trib Talk.
A few schools in Utah and more across the country have made the adjustment, and "There’s still day care, there’s still jobs, there’s still sports," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, co-chairwoman of advocacy group Start School Later. "All that stuff adjusts."
Pushing back teens’ school day would bring students more in line with their 20th century counterparts: A hundred years ago, students in the western United States showed up to the schoolhouse at about 9 a.m.
But pushing back the first bell is a hard sell among school boards and communities, said Salt Lake City School Board member Heather Bennett.
"If I were queen, I would move it back an hour without any question," she said. Her own son, now 26, struggled through his teen years to get up and going for a 7:30 school start.
The shift would throw out of whack years of family routines. And working parents like the current school day because they can send their kids to school before they reach the office.
That’s a major reason why officials hesitate to propel the change and disrupt the community.
But putting it off hurts teenagers, Snider said. "We’re doing a disservice to our kids." If they can’t fall asleep until nearly midnight and then rise for the school day at dawn, they miss out on a big chunk of the recommended nine hours’ sleep.
School start times and circadian, or sleep cycle rhythms, are only a few factors affecting students’ sleep, some experts contend. Light from computer screens, tablets and late-night texting can keep them from dozing off as soon as they hit the pillow. Sugary and caffeinated drinks don’t help, either.
Others question the role of parents to set bedtimes and ban electronics in the evening.
Even so, the push for a later school day is gaining momentum as top national officials sign on, including United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Salt Lake City’s West High School is giving the later start time a shot, but only on Mondays. Students this semester are kicking off the school week at 9 a.m. to make time for early-morning teacher training.