Start School Later for Older Kids, Doctors Urge
Opening bell should be no earlier than 8:30, says Academy of Pediatrics
So in areas where kids take the school bus, the actual school day could begin before sunrise.
According to Owens, U.S. high schools started bumping up start times back in the 1950s and '60s, mainly to space out bus runs. Many school districts start high schools and middle schools first, then circle buses back to pick up elementary school kids.
One option would be to flip elementary and high school start times, but parents often oppose that -- since young children could be standing at bus stops in the early-morning dark, or have no one at home after school. Another option -- running more buses -- would be expensive.
Transportation is not the only obstacle, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which supports pushing back school start times. Some other arguments are that sports and extracurricular activities would end too late; teenagers would have no time for after-school jobs; and a later start could conflict with working parents' schedules.
Owens acknowledged the logistical challenges, and said parents and school staff sometimes oppose later start times. As an example, she said the Fairfax County, Va., school district has been debating the issue for years. Four options, including one with a 9:15 a.m. high school start, will be put to a vote this fall.
Some districts have found "creative solutions" to certain obstacles -- like having high school students switch from school buses to public ones, according to the academy.
Deray thinks tackling the practical challenges is worthwhile. He said studies have linked kids' sleep deprivation not only to poorer school performance, but also to higher rates of car accidents, obesity and depression.
In a recent study of eight U.S. high schools that delayed their start times, researchers found improvements in kids' grades, attendance and car crash rates.
Later school starts are just one way to help sleepy kids, however. Deray offered parents some tips.
"All electronic devices should be turned off an hour or two before bed," he said. "The blue light from them suppresses melatonin production."
He also advised avoiding physical and mental stimulation close to bedtime -- which means exercise and homework should be done earlier in the evening. And while teenagers love to sleep till noon on weekends, that will only further disturb their sleep/wake cycle. Deray said kids should get up by 9 a.m. on weekends and get plenty of morning sunlight.