Does Starting School Later in the Day Benefit Teens?

Note: This post contains affiliate links, when you purchase a product or service through one of these links we may earn a commission on that sale. 

Adolescence is a time of many changes in the body. One often-neglected change is the shift in the circadian rhythm. Teens undergo a “sleep phase delay.” This is common in most mammals as they reach puberty. The need to sleep is delayed for about two hours. This may be misdiagnosed as insomnia, but most teens do not have difficulty falling asleep once they are tired – they start feeling tired later. Tweens may feel sleepy around 9 p.m., but teens will often not feel this until 11. However, they still require, on average, nine hours of sleep. Hence, school starting at the ‘usual’ time may be actively creating sleep-deprived teens. Also, schoolwork has increased disproportionately in the last two decades, and it might compete for their sleep time, especially in working teens. Girls begin to show a delay in sleep time one year earlier than boys since they experience puberty at a younger age. Unfortunately, adults around them might congratulate them for being ‘hard working’ when they work until late in the night. This sets in an unhealthy pattern of sleep deprivation and burnout. Peer pressure to stay up late can often affect the teen’s sleeping patterns as some teens stay up late to the party, play video games, or be present on social media.

Loss of sleep has a myriad of ill effects- irritability, feeling hungry more often, weakened immune response, and of course, fatigue. This also leads to a loss of focus, and although the person may work very hard, the overall quality of work suffers. One proposed solution is to hold school two or three hours later for teens. This has many benefits- once the students have the required quota of sleep, most of them show improved grades. This also leads to healthier eating habits. There is finally enough time in the morning for a balanced breakfast (grab-and-go breakfasts such as granola bars are shown to have an extraordinary amount of sugar in them). This also reduces caffeine intake, leading to better sleep cycles overall. Drowsiness is also one of the leading causes of vehicular accidents, and teens driving to school are much safer once they have slept enough. Extra sleep can also help regulate weight, and there is a positive correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity. It also traps people in a vicious cycle – stress makes it harder to sleep, but lack of sleep also causes stress.

Even though physicians agree that starting school unanimously later is beneficial for the students, most schools are unwilling to change due to logistical concerns. Starting school later would mean rewriting bus schedules and losing jobs for working teens, both of which would disproportionately affect lower-income groups first. However, the schools that experimented with later opening times recorded improved grades and physical health across the board. Still, the reluctance to change persists. For now, the best path seems to be the promotion of better sleep hygiene and managing other tasks effectively so that they do not compromise the sleep quantity or quality.

Must Read

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here