Should legislation be passed to start school later? Experts on Health, Sleep, Parenting & Education Weigh In

Working hard. Playing hard. So many of us, especially adolescents are “Sleepless in America”, exhausted before the alarm even rings. And guess what? There is a hot debate brewing over whether or not something can be done about it, starting with our school systems.

Read on for thoughts on the ongoing debate from from health, sleep and education experts around the blogosphere.

Love, Teach, a middle school English teacher, loves the idea of an early-up, early-done day, but as a Title I teacher, knows that sometimes her students’ lack of sleep is due to more than a late night watching You Tube. She ponders, “What if starting later would cut down on failure rates, absenteeism, and other things that are so widespread at schools like mine, and are actually part of the reason that we have so much work outside of school hours? So, while I’m not totally psyched at the idea of not being able to beat rush hour traffic anymore, I am also aware that there’s more to this issue than me. Even though starting early might work for me, it’s clearly not working for my students.”

Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, co-founder and executive director of Start School Later is so passionate about this topic that she started the national petition for a minimum public school start time, which in turn, led to the creation of the non-profit organization, Start School Later. Terra shares her perspective, writing, “As a mother I knew instinctively that dragging my teenagers out of bed before sunrise was harmful and counterproductive. As a science writer and historian I knew that the very early bell times that had become standard over past decades were fueling a public health crisis. But over the years I also realized that powerful forces were maintaining the status quo. I also realized that no powerful and sustainable group was motivated to overcome them.

Rebecca at Beccarama remembers early mornings in the NYC public school system. She notes, “By my senior year, I began the school day at 7:45 and ended at around 1:00.  I left the house at around 6:45 for the subway, usually in the dark, and always tired.” Now, with her two adolescent daughters approaching high school, the issue is hitting close to home. Rebecca goes on to write, “I really believe that true change in education can only come when parents band together to act on behalf of their kids and use their voting leverage and voices to affect change.  Since many school districts site budget concerns as a reason for not changing the school start time it may take legislation (and support) to make districts move their start times and takes this issue seriously.

Parenting and sleep consultant Dana Olbeman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program shares her views in relation to the biology behind adolescents’ sleep patterns. “Young bodies go through dramatic hormonal changes during puberty which seem to correlate strongly with later sleep patterns, both for falling asleep and for rising. Forcing tired bodies to get up and be ready to start high school at 7:30 a.m. some places, seems to be counterproductive to educating our youth,” Olbeman writes.

Amy, at The Health Teacher recounts the real-life oxymoron that was her first teaching environment where she was “trying to teach nutrition at a school that rented out its cafeteria to Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr., and Pizza Hut.” She continues, “A school that made money off of vending machines full of Flaming Hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew. It seems crazy when I think about it now, but ten years ago, in public high schools, that was the norm. And then the powers that be were left scratching their heads over our growing obesity problem.” She relates this to teens and sleep and concedes that budgeting is of course something to be considered and then adds, “But that’s what they told us about the vending machines.” 

Wellbody Blog highlights some of the health consequences associated with sleeplessness and how lack of sleep “increases the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and mental disorders, substance abuse and traffic accidents.” The online gathering spot for all things health and wellness, goes on to recognize this heated debate over “why high schools hold classes so early in the morning, at an hour when the American Academy of Pediatrics says teens are primed for shut-eye.”

A big thanks to all the experts above who shared their thoughts on the issue – click over to each to read more and don’t forget to tune into Sleepless in America, this Sunday, November 30, at 8 PM ET/PT.


  1. Debbie Moore
    Arlington, TX
    November 25, 2014, 5:41 pm

    Legislation is absolutely needed. School boards are too entrenched, lack the political will and often the leadership to address the sleep needs of adolescents. Misguided priorities trump the biology of our children.

  2. […] Geographic Channel takes a deeper look at the issue in their new special- Sleepless in America- premiering Sunday, November 30th at 8 p.m., […]

  3. Diane L.
    November 28, 2014, 11:13 pm

    i agree but we need to consider what is too early period. Our schools did flip the times for the secondary and primary grades.
    Now the K and elementary kiddos arrive at school before 7:30 on the buses. That means they are being picked up at 6:30 or before at bus stops. They are tired and they go all day. Meaning they don’t arrive home from the bus until between 3 and 4. Some kids then go to childcare.
    It’s a rough life for a kindergartener, especially since we are expecting so much from them academically.