Introduction: The Timing of Education

In the early 1990s, researchers from Brown University (1) and the University of São Paulo (1.5found initial evidence that circadian biology drives the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents. (1, 1.5Subsequent studies have confirmed puberty’s onset marks the beginning of a “phase shift,” with adolescents going to bed later and rising later than younger children. (2, 2.5, 3, 4Typically adolescents are unable to fall asleep at earlier times and sleep in later to get the 9 or more hours (2, 5) of sleep they need. (3, 6, 7, 8, 9

In 1994, physicians began advising school leaders to “eliminate early starting hours for teenagers.” (10) Sleep experts urge a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later, for middle (2, 13) and high school students. (2, 11, 12, 14, 15) Few administrators have listened, (12) instead adhering to school schedules described by preeminent scientists as “toxic,” (15.5) abusive,” (16) nonsense,” (17) deleterious,” (18) cruel,” (19) and “nuts.” (20) More than 85 percent of public junior and senior high schools in the United States begin morning classes before 8:30 a.m., (20.5) with nearly 43 percent starting during the 7 o’clock hour, (20.5) while melatonin still pressures adolescents to sleep. (2, 3, 12, 21, 22, 24)

The vast majority of teenagers attending early starting schools meet the morning bell in a sleep-deprived state. (2, 6, 8, 12, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39“The consequences of this sleep deprivation are severe, impacting adolescents’ physical and mental health, as well as daytime functioning.” (40) Students at later starting schools get more sleep, (4, 13, 30, 37, 41, 42, 43) perform better academically, (13, 24, 37, 44, 45) have significantly fewer automobile accidents, (31, 46report greater motivation (41) and less depression, (3, 37, 41, 47) experience fewer physical health difficulties, (37, 41) are less likely to be tardy or truant, (2, 30, 41, 44, 47, 48) demonstrate “better performance in attention level, impulsivity, and rate of performance[,]” (13and, according to Brookings Institute economists, will likely earn significantly more money as adults when school begins at “roughly” 9 a.m. (49)

Policymakers may eventually decide when the school day begins. (50, 51) Until then, at least during the school year, adolescent sleep sufficiency, a point of concern for the CDC (18, 26, 52, 53, 54) and the National Institutes of Health, (55, 56, 57) will substantially be determined by the whims of local school boards. (58

To the extent it may be said that there is a “debate” concerning school start times, science favors only one side of the argument. (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57) The other side is governed by unawareness (59) and adult convenience, (60, 61) busing, athletics, (12) and politics, (58) rather than education or the needs of children. (62, 63, 64)

Full citations available in the Endnotes & Appendices (html), or at pages 85-130 (Endnotes) and 131-252 (Appendices) of the site contents paper (pdf). We address broken hyperlinks within 24 hours of any link failure and otherwise update literature and school news throughout the school year.

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