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Like many students, I had a fairly sleepy high school experience. My school day ran from 7:35 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., which was especially jarring during my freshman year after spending three years of middle school with a 9 a.m. start time.
Of course, any high schooler would probably say they need to start school later — who would say no to sleeping in? But now that I’ve had a few years of school days mostly starting around 8 or 9 a.m., I’d still advocate that a later start time makes a world of a difference in terms of student morale and health. And some California lawmakers agree, as demonstrated by a recent bill that would mandate a later start time for schools.
The bill, introduced last week by state Senator Anthony Portantino, would require California middle and high schools to start their school day no earlier than 8:30 a.m. This time is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released a policy statement in 2014 that advocated for a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later.
The statement noted that currently, many school schedules do not line up with teenagers’ natural sleep cycles. If their first period class starts at 7:30 a.m. the following day, this automatically sets them up for failure in obtaining the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.
Studies have shown that more sleep can lead to better grades, reduced risk of car accidents, lessened risk of depression and becoming overweight, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.
This isn’t news to current high school or even college students. For the most part, getting to bed before 11 p.m. is nearly impossible for most high school students, especially those juggling heavy course loads, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. But even if they do get to sleep at their recommended 11 p.m. bedtime, they’ll most likely need to wake up before reaching their eighth hour of sleep. With a 7:30 a.m. school start time, they would probably need to wake up at least an hour before — around 6:30 a.m. — to have enough time for preparation and transportation to school.
Still, the underlying problem to students’ lack of sleep is undoubtedly their crammed schedules. If students weren’t juggling so many activities, they’d have more time to get their homework done sooner, resulting in an earlier bedtime. However, those arguing that students should cut back on their activities instead of relying on a later start time are ignoring how highly competitive today’s high school environment is.
Similar to the school start time itself, the issue of overloaded schedules couldn’t be resolved without some sort of impossible mandate. Otherwise, you can’t expect one student to cut back on their activities, knowing all the while that their peers in others schools and districts are continuing to overbook themselves in order to load up their college applications. And obviously, it would be impossible to implement legislation that limits after-school activities. Furthermore, it may be easy to tell the kid on five sports teams that they need to quit one, but what about the student who needs to work 20 hours a week to help support their family or save for college?
The plague of overscheduled teens is definitely an issue, and one without a clear solution. Starting school later will at least allow students to get in some extra shuteye while they’re pressured to keep up with increasingly crowded schedules.
Statistics show that students need more sleep, and as of now the clearest solution is to build another hour of sleep into their mornings. A world without busy work or excessive extracurriculars is an impossible ideal. For now, it is best to adapt to these realities by pushing back school start times.
Erin Rode is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.