Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


March 9th, 2016

4446750_sThe debate rages on about whether-or-not schools are starting too early in the morning for teenagers. Currently, in the U.S. more than 4 in 5 middle and high schools start classes at or before 8:30 am.

TIME magazine recently ran a story “Why schools are struggling to let students sleep in.” In the article California school assistant superintendent, Jody McClay remembers first hearing complaints several years ago from parents and students who said that school was starting too early. She said it puzzled her at first and that she thought at the time the simple solution was just for kids to go to bed earlier. Then she learned about sleep phase delay. This disorder is a medical term for how puberty affects bedtime. The hormone changes cause a shift in the circadian rhythms that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for some teens to go to bed before 11 pm and wake up before 8 am. This lead McClay to ask the question; should school start later?

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a formal recommendation to delay school start times. Studies have shown that students who do get more sleep, preferably nine hours, perform overall better in school, particularly on tests.

It seems like starting school an hour later shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. It’s also costly. The snags many districts face in starting school later include costly changes in busing, complications for athletic programs that most likely will see students leaving early for games, a need to adjust the starting time in primary schools to accommodate busing schedules, and a later start time for students who want to work after school.

For parents starting school later makes it more difficult. Starting school an hour later can create a host of problems for parents trying to get to work on time.
Some schools are making the change and have done so with precision, patience, compromise and lots of trial and error and studying what works and what doesn’t. Karen Garza, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, said that her school has made the change and that, for the most part, it’s been a success. Garza thinks that other schools will take the plunge – they have to. I agree.


Why Schools Are Struggling to Let Students Sleep In TIME (available to subscribers online)

Why More Schools Are Letting Their Students Sleep In Huffington Post

New Study Says Let Them Sleep In Dr. Paul Blog

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription.

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