A later start time for teens has been clearly connected with better grades, attendance, mental health and fewer sleep-related car crashes.
Seattle Public Schools changed high school start times two years ago to keep students awake when it really mattered — in the classroom. New research from the University of Washington suggests the experiment is working.
The combination of teenagers and sleep deprivation is clearly connected with bad physical, mental and academic outcomes, according to numerous previous studies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are both pushing high schools across the nation to establish later bell times for teens. Their research indicates later start times combat the effects of sleep deprivation in teens, who naturally fall asleep later than their parents think they should.
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For the U.W. Department of Biology study, sophomores at two Seattle high schools were asked to wear activity monitors during two weeks in spring 2016, before the schedule changed. Another group of sophomores kept track of their sleep pattern in the same way the following spring. The results showed students averaged 34 minutes more sleep after start times for high schools and most middle schools changed from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m.
Researchers noted higher science class grades among the second group of participants — from a median grade of 77.5 percent in 2016 to 82 percent in 2017 — according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
At Franklin High School, researchers also found attendance improved — from 15.5 absences in first period in the 2016 group to 13.6 absences among the 2017 students. And tardiness was down — from 6.2 times in 2016 to 4.3 in 2017 . This trend matters because attendance is a key indicator of school success. Low-income students, especially, have more obstacles to getting to school on time. Those numbers did not change at Roosevelt High School, where fewer low-income students attend.
The Seattle district and others in the region are moving in the right direction. Others resist the change, because changing start times upsets established bus schedules, could cost districts more money and can interfere with after-school activities. They should pay more attention to the research.
A later start time for teens has been clearly connected with better grades, attendance, mental health and fewer sleep-related car crashes. A 2013 study in the journal Pediatrics found that 17-to-24-year-old drivers who said they sleep six or fewer hours a night were about 20 percent more likely to be involved in a car crash than those who sleep more.
The recent Seattle study suggests similar benefits. The district should continue to track high school student metrics to quantify the impact of the later start times. And the later start times should continue.