School start times a factor in sleep


High school students should get nine to 10 hours of sleep a day or their academic work can suffer.
High school students should get nine to 10 hours of sleep a day or their academic work can suffer. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Teenagers need their sleep, but school start times and science might be keeping them from a full night’s rest.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep a day.

Less than that can result in diminished cognitive activity and has been linked to physical and mental health issues.

Teenagers need even more sleep than adults, about nine to 10 hours’ worth.

“If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior,” the institute’s website says.

But getting that 10 hours of sleep might be harder for teens than it should be.

If high school starts at 7:35 a.m., a student would have to wake up around 6 a.m. to eat, get ready and catch a ride to school without being tardy.

For that same kid to get the recommended nine-10 hours, they would have to get to sleep at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night.

Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

Puberty pushes back a teen’s circadian rhythm a couple of hours, making them sleepy at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

A student might not get naturally tired until 11 p.m., giving them only seven hours of sleep, two hours less than recommended.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended middle and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later.

“Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty,” the academy said in a statement.

Many Tarrant County school districts, like Fort Worth and Northwest, have that recommended high school start time, but some, like Arlington, Mansfield and Birdville, have start times an hour earlier.

Although arguments have been made about the cost of changing the times or the effect it would have on working parents, the school districts starting high school at 7:35 a.m. or earlier should consider the benefits of a later start time for high school students.

The focus should be on students.