A later school start time could help students' performance, according to a Miami-Dade School Board member.
"Let’s go guys, let’s go!” barks out Guillermo Munoz, as his students at Homestead High School make their way through the corridors of school. He’s like just about every other high school principal, always cajoling sleep-deprived students to get to class.
Aleah Wright is in Krop High School’s magnet drama program. What time does she get up in the morning to get to school?
"Um, 4:45," Wright says, explaining that she has to catch an early bus to make it to school, and agreeing when it's suggested that’s insane. "Yeah, I know, I know."
"Sleep deprivation is a serious problem today among adolescents and we’re seeing that it has significant impacts on learning," said Dr. Julie Boergers, who is a pediatric sleep disorders expert at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Dr. Boergers says it’s not as simple as telling high school kids to go to bed earlier. Because of changes in circadian rhythms at that age, most adolescents can’t go to sleep much earlier than eleven o’clock, she says.
In South Florida, public high school start times range from 7:20 to 7:40 a.m. That's too early, Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp says.
"A later high school start time would allow students to get the extra sleep needed and I believe that performance would improve, it doesn’t have to be dramatically later but studies show that even with an additional 25 minutes to 30 minutes of sleep, students can do better," Karp said, pointing out that he has raised the issue at school board meetings.
Dr. Boergers just proved Karp’s point. She got a boarding school to start classes a half-hour later for an entire semester and saw dramatic results among the students.
"They were less tired during class, they were taking less naps, they were using less caffeine, and they were reporting less depression," Dr. Boergers said. "This is just the latest study that’s showing benefits of later school times, it’s not the first."
So there’s a mountain of evidence showing the benefits of starting high school a little bit later, so why not start school at 8 instead of 7:20? It’s all about transportation logistics and after-school activities.
"It really is a challenge for school districts to make that happen,” said Karp, explaining that there aren’t enough buses to get high school kids to school at 8 and younger kids to school at 8:30 and 9, and many sports need hours daylight for after-school practice, which means school has to end by 3 p.m. But Karp says he’ll keep pushing for an 8 a.m. start time for high schools.
"It would really require a lot of hard work to pull that off, but I think you would see increased academic performance and greater student, parent, and teacher satisfaction," Karp said.
That change would be music to one student’s ears.
"Oh definitely, more sleep for me so I can be more energized when I go to my classes and be more alert,” said Wright.
It’s a simple equation, say the experts: More sleep equals better grades.