Dr. Jennifer Krause, pediatrician
Jefferson City Public Schools is currently considering changing school start times such that middle and high school students start after 8:30 a.m. This change would align our start times with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations, based on research showing benefits of later starts for secondary students.
Around puberty, circadian rhythms in children change such that it is harder for adolescents to fall asleep at an ideal bedtime, and it is harder for them to wake up early. Even with good sleep habits, it can be difficult for teens to be alert in the morning because of this physiologic drive to sleep in. Despite this, we currently expect our older students to be up and ready to learn the earliest of all our students.
Most teens get less than the needed 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Studies show that when school start times are moved later, students do get more sleep and have less daytime sleepiness. A growing body of research shows benefits of later start times including decreased tardies and absences, improved academic scores, decreased rates of automobile accidents, and decreased depression symptoms.
By shifting the school day a little later for these older students, we are ensuring they are at school during their optimal times for learning. Though students would leave school later for work and activities, their time in school would be more productive and valuable.
It was heartening to hear at the last school board meeting reports from community leaders who are working toward solutions to help meet child care needs if the school start times change. I am grateful to all those in the community (child care providers, employers, others) who may help make adjustments to accommodate student and family schedule changes.
In this decision about school start times, the relationship between sleep and adolescent learning and well-being is an important consideration.