Research suggests that middle and high school students do not get enough sleep, leading to poor academic performance, well-being, and long-term health consequences.
When schools first opened back up for in-person learning, many students exhibited behavioral issues in addition to mental health struggles. As schools, teachers, and students transitioned back to in-person learning, it became evident that later start times would mean better performance and well-being.
This is far from the first time that later school start times have been debated. Sleep researchers and healthcare leaders have been vouching for later start times as far back as 1993. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been calling for later school start times since 2014. There is even a national nonprofit called Start School Later that is dedicated to postponing school start times.
Back in 2019, California was the first and only state to dictate school start times
This year, at least 9 states have been considering later school start times, including Denver, Philadelphia, Alaska, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee.
First off, why should high schools start times be pushed back?
According to the AAP, teenagers regularly experience chronic sleep loss. Because of puberty, their circadian rhythms are also different from young children and adults. During the teen years, circadian rhythms shift later by 2 to 3 hours, making it harder to fall asleep before 10 to 11 p.m. and harder to wake up before 8 a.m.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends teens get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night, but a staggering 73% of high school students fail to meet that requirement for a number of reasons.
With the current 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. start times, teenagers are losing an overwhelmingly important aspect of sleep—REM sleep. During REM sleep, memory consolidation and emotional regulation occur, and it is concentrated during the last third of the 9-hour biological need.
Teachers support the postponement of school start times since many of them report teen students falling asleep during class. This would happen less if students had the time for quality sleep. They would also be able to pay attention and experience less irritability and fatigue.
How do later school start times affect performance?
According to news reports, students have been much happier with later school start times. Grades are not the only component that matters, especially when there is a mental health crisis affecting teens in the US.
Unlike many companies where flexible schedules with later start times means the end of the work day is pushed back, school days with later start times still end at 3 p.m. With this new schedule, students have more time after school to help their families, participate in extracurricular activities, and listen to their bodies without stressing over not being able to finish homework in time.
In an area where high schools have pushed back their start times, there has been a decrease in “tardiness and absenteeism, as well as a steep decline in student morning car accidents.”
Some other ways later school start times affect school performance include decreased likelihood of participating in risk-taking behaviors, lesser chance of unhealthy behaviors, lower risk of athletic injury, and a decrease in depressive symptoms.
What are the drawbacks?
Critics argue that shortened classes may affect the curriculum and students’ learning, but the principal of Upper Darby High points out that classes did not always take up the full 80 minutes. In addition to lectures, learning included reading material and watching videos. Both are things students can do in their own time.
In 2021, a study by the National Education Association examined 18,000 students in grades 5 through 11 whose schools had moved their start times back by 20 to 65 minutes. It was revealed that this only increased students ’ GPAs by 0.1 points on average.
An earlier study from 2016 to 2019 in Minnesota found similar results, although students were 16% more likely to get the recommended 9 hours of sleep.
Since later school start times have only recently come into effect, and only in a couple of states, it will take a while for everyone to notice the long-term benefits that it brings.
Florida’s recent bill proposing later school start times
Florida is another one of the states that has been considering school start time-related legislation. If the bill is approved, the change would not take effect in middle and high schools until Fall 2026.
The bill mandates that middle schools should start no earlier than 8 a.m., and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. House Speakers supported this argument by stating that quality sleep aids learning and mental health.
As of now, 76% of Floridian high schools start before 8:30 a.m., and 48% open before 7:30 a.m. The reason that Florida’s later school start times would take so long to come into effect is that dozens of schools in the Tampa Bay area have early start times, with the earliest school starting at 7:16 a.m. Many logistical changes need to be made before the bill comes into effect.
An aspect opposers brought up was time costs for working parents. Parents who drive children to school before going to work may actually find later start times an inconvenient change to their schedule.
Nevertheless, the bill received strong bipartisan support.
The outcome of later school start times in Pennsylvania
Upper Darby High, a high school in Pennsylvania, changed their school ’s start time from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. earlier this year. Students can either use this time to sleep in, do homework, or meet with teachers for one-on-one guidance.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an alarming increase in persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness among high school students. Pushing back school start times is one of the ways that schools can help students since a lack of sleep exacerbates poor mental health.
Not only do later start times benefit students, but it also gives teachers the extra time they need for themselves, and more time for administrators to find substitute teachers—as teacher shortages are another challenge that arose during the pandemic.
So, what’s the verdict?
The numerous benefits that would come out of later school start times are compelling. It ’s no wonder that the AAP has been supporting this movement for almost a decade.
The doctors say that ultimately, sleep deprivation is a public health problem and not an education problem. The decision to postpone school start times should not only be in the hands of school officials and politicians, but in those of health organizations and health officials.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not value sleep as much as education and careers, so it may still be a while until more schools, states, and countries welcome this change.
Join Us For A Rejuvenating School Trip to China—Promoting Well-being Through Experiential Learning
Nurturing happy and successful students starts with investing in their well-being. As educators, we must ask ourselves: How can we assist student development in an organic and holistic way? Students should not be only defined by their scores. That’s why we firmly believe experiential education is important.
The experiential learning theory places emphasis on the notion that the best way to learn things is through experiences. It is the experiences that stick out in our mind more than anything and helps us retain information.
Stemming from the work of theorists John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, and David Kolb, there are 4 stages of experiential learning theory: concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. The first two stages are where students grasp a concept, and the second two are where transformation comes into play.
Just like regular learning styles, there are multiple experiential learning styles, discussed in detail by the Institute of Experiential Learning. Some examples include imagining, analyzing, acting, initiating, and balancing.
Abstract conceptualization and active experimentation is how a learner solidifies what they’ve learned by applying what they’ve learned in the world around them. Some experiences may challenge pre-existing beliefs or perspectives, helping a learner reconceptualize what they’ve learned.
That is the type of learning your students can experience on a school trip to China with us.
Beyond the Wall – The Mountains of Xinglong County is a 6-day school trip to China that focuses on History & Culture, Outdoor Education, and Team building. This school trip to rural Beijing features generous amounts of hiking and staying in remote Chinese villages.
For one week, step away from the monotony of early wake-ups and schedules to remind yourself and your students of all there is to life. On this school trip to China, we will begin in Dongjiafeng Village and make our way through Yangshitang Village, Ximatigou Village, and finally to Sidaohe Village.
As an Adventure Journey designed for the Silver Award, it offers no shortage of physical challenge with frequent 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) hikes. But by crossing into a mode of experiential learning, you ’ll soon notice both the physical and mental benefits it brings since the natural scenery of China ’s wildest regions is utterly breathtaking!
Talk to us if you’re looking to book a school trip to China!
WildChina Education is one of Asia ’s oldest and most established leaders in experiential education. Whether your interest is in IB CAS, longitudinal service learning, STEAM programs, the International Award, or subject-focused curricula, our team of Academic Managers will work with you to design programs that link classroom learning to real-world situations.
If you would like to learn more about any school trips to China, we are reachable by phone and email! You may also contact us directly through this website. We are looking forward to hearing from you!