Is Pushing Back Start Times the Answer to Teen Sleep Deprivation?

Kelly McCrystle , Guest Writer

Since Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 328, California schools have been steadily pushing back their start times to at least 8:30 a.m. This law was fully implemented at Rio Americano high school for the first time this year. As a sleep-deprived teen who goes to Rio, I appreciate being able to sleep in the extra time, however, as a student-athlete with a heavy workload, school beginning at 8:30 and ending at 3:30 isn’t doing much to fix my sleep schedule.

The problem with pushing back start times isn’t that school starts later, it’s that students end their days later, continuing the cycle of going to sleep far too late and going to school far too sleepy.

Students with after-school activities, jobs, or a heavy workload are feeling the pressure of their entire schedule being pushed back to accommodate school starting at 8:30 and not getting home until much later.

One student at Rio says, “Personally, I don’t like the later start time. It means that we get out of school at 3:30, which gives me barely enough time to go to practice, eat dinner, do my homework, and practice the trumpet all in one night. It’s very frustrating and I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day to do what I need to do, especially since I wake up at the same time I did last year.”

Students aren’t benefiting from this schedule, they have to cram all of the things they need to do in a shorter time, or go to sleep later to get everything done, which will turn high schools into the walking grounds of groggy half-asleep zombie-students, and teachers will be stuck grading assignments that are rushed or late.

Supporters of the new start times raise some great points; teens being chronically sleep deprived hurts their academic performance, makes them drowsy drivers, and leads to mental and physical health problems. An article in Stanford Medicine states that “more than 87 percent of high school students in the United States get far less than the recommended eight to 10 hours, and the amount of time they sleep is decreasing — a serious threat to their health, safety and academic success.”

Obviously, teens aren’t sleeping enough. However, pushing back start times isn’t the answer to getting more sleep for many students. In some cases, the new start times have made teens sleep less. In a survey sent to 71 students at Rio Americano high school, all taking at least one Advanced Placement class, about 44 percent said they got the same amount of sleep as last year,  and 12 percent  said they actually got less. As many studies on teen sleep deprivation have pointed out, even the same amount is not enough.

As a student who has been affected by the new schedule, I can confidently say that starting later does nothing to improve my sleep cycle. Most days I wake up at 7:15, the same time I woke up last year, and get home at 6 and go to sleep past midnight! On days that I have practice I don’t have enough time to do my homework and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. This new schedule is making my life feel rushed and I never seem to have enough time to do anything, and I know many teens feel the same.

Even if they have an open sixth period and can leave school before 3:30, students have to rush to a practice, their job, or home to get their homework done. A Rio student states, “The time school starts has nothing to do with my sleep schedule. It’s the amount of homework that I am doing after school and extracurriculars.” Students are so overwhelmed with work and their hobbies that they can’t find the time to sleep. Changing their schedule so that they have less time in the day after school does nothing to fix the problem. 

Having school begin later isn’t a bad thing. In fact, many students may like it better. The problem is that with a pushed back schedule and the same workload students don’t have time for anything besides school without feeling stressed. This new schedule is effectively condensing teenagers’ free time into a much shorter time slot where they have to choose between not doing everything they want and/or need to do, or slipping back into the same cycle of going to sleep too late for the time that they wake up.