Fit Mom: Schools need to rethink early start times

A recent study on why starting the school day later is a benefit for teens caught my attention. I’ve just


A recent study on why starting the school day later is a benefit for teens caught my attention. I’ve just started to think about the back-to-school chaos that’s coming. A big part of that for our family is the morning madness.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, looked at what starting the school day a half hour later did for high school students in Rhode Island. They asked the school to move the first bell from 8 a.m. to 8:30 and noticed a big change in, not only the students, but the teachers as well (and I’m sure most parents were doing a jig). They found students were more alert, were in better moods, less depressed, more interested in participating in athletics and academics and were more likely to attend class. Faculty surveyed said it had also improved the quality of their lives and made their students better prepared to start the day.

My 13 year old starts school at 8 a.m. and he has to be up and out the door by 7:30 a.m. to catch the school bus. That means I’m waking him up at 6:45 a.m. each morning. His reaction to being woken at that hour isn’t always pretty or pleasant, but I can’t really blame him. According to the researchers, ‘Teenagers are biologically programmed to prefer a later bedtime and a later wake-up time so it is not surprising that they struggle with early start times.’ Apparently adolescent circadian rhythms change during puberty, resulting in as much as a two-hour shift in sleep/wake cycles. So they need the sleep (experts say up to 9 hours a night).

And that explains the change in my son this summer. It’s as if he turned 13 and the next day a switch was flipped. He’s developed a real need to go to bed later and sleep later and I’m imagining this will make for an even tougher start to the school year. I know our school board has been toying with the idea of changing the school’s start time and this and other studies may provide a good starting point for more discussion.