Start School Later: The Kids are Exhausted

Students trying to reason with adults on healthy school start times. Montgomery parents go to the school board; Anne Arundel is next.

Students are signing petitions in Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County, asking their school boards to change school start times to one that reflects adolescents’ sleep and health requirements.      

This Tuesday, 10:30 a.m., a group of parents will appear before the Montgomery County Board of Education, in Rockville. Mandi Mader, MSW, LCSW-C, Psychotherapist, represents almost 10,000 concerned citizen petition signers and has witnessed firsthand the harm caused by chronic sleep deprivation to her patients. Mrs. Mader is part of Start School Later, the national coalition headquartered in Annapolis.     

The Anne Arundel County chapter of Start School Later plans to present our petition to the school board early in the new year.

Students are living this schedule every single day, and their voices are reflected in the comments they type into the petition from Rockville and Garrett Park to Annapolis and Severna Park. Here are a few, and some suggestions on how to make your voice heard:      

Almost every morning I end up skipping breakfast and nearly missing my bus because I literally get woken up by my alarm and immediately pass back out. I have several hours of homework each night, but I can never think clearly enough to do it. I always have to choose between rushing through the work and getting an okay grade, understanding part of the material, or sleeping enough for class the following day. In school, it is a common sight for a large chunk of a class to get in trouble for having cups of coffee on their desks, and being told that they don't need to be drinking coffee at their ages. If you ask a lot of these students why they have coffee, they will answer that they actually do need the caffeine in the morning. I already take medication to focus, but it doesn't matter when I'm tired and hungry. Even when I do manage to get my work done early, I just can't close my eyes until 11:30.
My doctor told me to take melatonin if I was having that much trouble falling asleep earlier. I'm not alone in this, as my friends have been told and have tried to do the same. It doesn't really help. School has stopped being fun and has instead become one the biggest stressors in my life. The less I understand in class, the harder it is to do my homework. The harder it is to do my homework, the less of it I'm willing and able to get done. The less homework I get done, the lower my grades get. The lower my grades get, the worse my mood gets. The worse my mood gets, the harder it is to do my work or sleep. The harder it is to sleep, the harder it is to understand material in class. My 10-year-old brother normally wakes up on his own a half hour after my bus leaves, as my parents have told me. End the vicious cycle of stress. Push the starting hours back and consider letting the younger kids that are actually awake in the morning have class first!
 - Margaret, Annapolis
Please make school start later. I don't remember the last time I got 8 hours of sleep on a school night - Kayla, Silver Spring    
Honestly, I'm sometimes so tired when I get home from school I fall asleep on the couch. I have no time for homework and I'm doing really poor in school. I know I could do better, if I would have time for homework. I have an afterschool job too. - Isa, Severna Park
I know many people who suffer from anxiety and depression, stress plays a big part in all that. Not enough sleep causes stress. - Nora, Silver Spring    
Being an IB student that is involved with multiple extra-curricular activities, it takes a toll knowing that once you arrive late at home (7:30pm being the earliest this marking period) you need to do hours of homework and still get up in time to get to school - Skye, Annapolis 
I believe this would greatly help, it is very hard to concentrate on hw with so little sleep! also, with coming to school early, it is hard learning in school especially with math when i have it in the morning! i think this will greatly benefit the students here in Montgomery Co., and help the students, academically. - Victoria, Silver Spring 
As a previous high school student, I know that waking up so early for classes is really bad. I'd only get 6 hours of sleep a night and it was pretty detrimental to my health. - Joe, Annapolis    
This is ridiculous. I wake up knowing I can't sleep for hours and hours. I just need at LEAST 1 more hour of sleep. I wake up at 6 - Marc, Chevy Chase
I am one of the high school students negatively impacted  by the early school times. - Kamran, Bethesda    
I'm very tired at school. - Jeri, Bethesda  
At the time that school starts now, I often find myself  skipping homework for sleep, and even with that, I can't concentrate or  remember most of my classes. I've also been late due to oversleeping. - Alexandra, Silver Spring    

If you are a student and you'd like to get involved with this movement, sign the petition for your school district, contact us at Start School Later, and think about checking out Stuvoice.org, a grassroots organization that seeks to unite and elevate the student voice.


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Shelly McGill December 06, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Thanks for including student comments...I think their voices are vital to the success of this movement in Montgomery County.
Tyrone Shoes December 07, 2012 at 12:34 AM
So is the plan to have the school day end later? I am sure a poll of students will reveal close to 100% in favor of later start times. Guess what kiddos.....thats not the real world! Not everyone has bankers hours. The early start time causes one to prioritize their day and get to bed early. Noone is forcing you to stay up until 11:30. Learn to regulate your sleep cycle. Play less video games. Go to bed early, get up early. If we make it too easy on you, what will your "back in my day" stories be based on?
Calique December 07, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Did you even read the student's comments?? They aren't screwing around and wasting time instead of sleeping. Their circadian rhythms at that age are completely out of sync with school hours. They are medically suffering. And they do things like DRIVE CARS in a chronically sleep-deprived state. This is bad for society.
EAO December 07, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Tyrone, It is not the norm to start work at 7 am and it has been my experience living all over the world that only in the Washington DC area does work start before 7 am. (My husband leaves our house at 6 a.m. and its the only place he has worked that he has ever had to do so, same industry. Most businesses start at 8 or 9. No one is asking that teen be able to sleep all morning, they are asking to start school at 8 a.m. at the earliest,is that really too much too ask. Considering all the research that backs up the request it surprises me that this is such a fight.
Tyrone Shoes December 07, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Twice actually.......I am unmoved. lol, define norm. Wish the lines of people on 495 and 66 at 6:30 realized that! There are high school students that live on farms that wake up way earlier than school starts to do chores. There are swimmers that have daily practice at 5:30 or earlier etc etc. They make it happen! My question has still not been answered. Is the trade off a later stop time to offset the 8am start? Is 8 enough? Why not make it 9? Believe me when I say that I understand the importance of a good nights sleep. I also understand the concept of having self discipline and going to bed early. I remember an interview on NPR with a sleep expert. His findings showed increased test scores early in the morning. Interesting stuff.
Corbin Dallas Multipass December 07, 2012 at 03:46 AM
"Is the trade off a later stop time to offset the 8am start?" The initiative is "Start School Later" not "Shorter School Days" so almost certainly yes.
Merry Eisner December 07, 2012 at 04:26 PM
It's been my observation that the folks getting up and on the roads at 6:30 am are doing so to avoid rush hour traffic. If they could get up a half-hour or an hour later and get to work just as fast, they would. We are ALL sleep-deprived here in DC. So, if MCPS, and the other school districts in the DC metro area, could take a long-hard look at this research and do some holistic analysis of their transportation planning, I bet we'd all benefit!
Zoe Cat December 07, 2012 at 08:38 PM
O All those precious pumpkins have trouble with sleep. I wonder how much caffeine they have during the day. Precious pumpkin if you drink a lot of caffeine you will not be able to fall asleep at night.
Heather Macintosh December 07, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Hi Tyrone, There's a difference between issue of 'sleep hygiene' and the issue of school start times in sync with circadian rhythms of adolescents and young adults. Sleep hygiene is all about the self-control to get yourself to bed on time, setting up an environment that is conducive to sleep (dark room, quiet, cool temperatures, etc.). If that was the whole story, the answer would be to go to bed earlier. What we're talking about here is an issue of biology and sleep rhythms particular to adolescents and young adults with the school schedule and these extremely early waking times.(http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/hot-topics/backgrounder-later-school-start-times) Because of this shift in circadian rhythms, our kids are not only missing out on the quantity of sleep that is recommended, but also the quality. You can read more about the health impacts and the positive impacts of later start times here http://www.startschoollater.net/success-stories.html. It has been said that having a high-school aged kid at 5:30 a.m. is the equivalent of having an adult wake at 2:30 a.m. We all know how that feels. Would we choose to do that every weekday of our lives? It's basically shift-work scheduling and not the ideal for anyone, especially for children whose bodies and brains are still developing. The length of the school day is not the issue that we're concerned with, but the start time. It's a complex issue but important.
Phyllis Payne December 08, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Good advice Zoe Cat. Eliminating caffeine after noon is another part of good sleep hygiene, but unfortunately, it's not the answer to this problem nor is it the cause. Oh -- and, I don't think pumpkins need to sleep, but children do. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/ and http://schoolstarttime.org/ have some excellent information for people interested in learning more about sleep needs of children and why adequate sleep at the appropriate time within the 24-hour cycle is so critical to health, well-being, learning, and safety as well as growth and development in children.
d December 08, 2012 at 01:56 PM
if you can't get up in the morning, go to bed earlier. It's not to complicated.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. December 08, 2012 at 08:04 PM
The Montgomery County petition (http://signon.org/sign/changing-montgomery-county) to start school later has close to 10K signatures and will be presented to the county BOE on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Both that petition and Anne Arundel's (AACStartTime.com) give more details about the evidence showing why this issue has nothing to do with good parenting or discipline and everything to do with biology and common sense. Asking teenagers to get by on under 6 hours of sleep a night, or to get up and out to school at absurdly early hours, is both unhealthy and counterproductive. It's only myths and misinformation that are keeping communities from returning to more sensible, traditional schedules.
CTG December 09, 2012 at 06:06 AM
Why is it SO hard for some people to understand that it is NOT a question of going to bed earlier, it is literally a question of biology. The adolescent brain is not wired to fall asleep earlier. Yes, they can go to bed, but they will not be able to fall asleep until much later. It is not coddling, or spoiling them to request later start times. It is simply an acknowledgment that their brain chemistry is changing and that getting enough GOOD sleep is vital to their health, well-being, and ability to actually absorb and learn the material they are studying in school.
G-Man December 11, 2012 at 01:37 PM
It is a complex issue. However, this falls back on parents ultimately. It's called a routine that begins pre high school. Also, the school days are longer. After you do 8 hours of school with 90 minute periods a vast majority of students have after school activities, sports, band, clubs, work, etc. What about eating habits? The first lunch is at 9:50am. Really? so you show up at band practice of football and go til 4:30 or 5, get home roughly around 6ish. hopefully someone will cook dinner (healthy, I hope), homework, etc. Then we send them to college and they pick their own schedule. First class at 10am stay up all night goofing off. Then the real world hits after graduation.
Jen December 11, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I got up at 6am to be at school at 7:15am. I would be in bed around 10pm and had no problems sleeping since I was tired from the day. Neither did my brothers and sister. Also, my parents didn't allow me to whack myself out on caffeine. It's not good for anyone's system let alone someone still developing. Too much screen time (tv, phone, computer) also messes up your sleep. Some sleep studies suggest no screen time whatsoever 30 minutes before bedtime.
Heather Macintosh December 11, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Jen, Your observations are excellent about caffeine, screen time & sleep. Sleep tips like this can definitely help students cope with the extremely early hours ... (What time do high school students set their alarms? Tell us in the comments!) ... but there's only so much that parents and kids can do to get that recommended 9 hours of sleep if they're struggling against biology to wake up at 5:30 a.m. or earlier. You must have had a better bus pick-up schedule than some who are being picked up around the time you were waking up. The earliest I could find in my area is 5:50. Our school bus picks up at 6:25.
Odenton Guy December 11, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I also survived getting to school at 7:15 AM. If they move the start time up then the school day will end later. Any after school activities will run even later (I remember getting home from football practice after 5:00 PM...when it gets dark this time of year). If this is enacted students will complain that they get home to late. I'm sure some psychologist will be there to back up their claim.
Tyrone Shoes December 12, 2012 at 08:03 PM
GMan, Jen and Odenton Guy, brilliant posts! I think a combination of the "power of suggestion" and "experimenter effects" help to perpetuate sleeplessness in teens. The biology excuse validates their bad sleep habits, hence perpetuating them. Nothing is anyone's fault. What is the proposed end time for the high school students? Another consideration is the school bus. Do we double up on busses and drivers in order to accomodate these sleepless students? Who will pay for that?
Jeff Andrade December 12, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Are we raising a generation of whiners? Tyrone is right on target. These people are not living in the real world. The fact is high school kids outside the US, typically go to school early and longer, and do more than here in the US. Many have longer commutes, which can be over an hour each way. Kids in Japan even have a time - o soji -- where they clean up the entire school before they leave for the day. Kids in South Korea go to school from 8 am to 4 pm BEFORE extra-curricular activities. In a number of countries, the students even go to school on Saturday for part of the day. The fact also is that US high school students continue to perform far below their peers overseas - 14th in reading literacy, 25th in math, and 17th in science - despite the fact that we spend more pupil than all of the high-performing countries like China, Singapore, South Korea, Finland and Canada. However, you don't see students in these countries with high-performing students sauntering into class at 10 AM because its better for their "circadian rhythm". These students ought to be petitioning for more instructional time, better trained teachers, and more challenging academic standards so that they don't continue to fall behind their peers in other countries. We need to be encouraging a stronger work ethic -- not coddling -- because it's a competitive world out there.
Maribel Ibrahim December 13, 2012 at 03:47 AM
We are underperforming in schools, primarily because we place too much emphasis on testing, sports, copious and redundant homework and not enough emphasis on critical thinking skills and sleep. Sleep is not a luxury, but a necessity. Get the facts on why the sleep crunch is causing the sleep deprivation crisis at http://www.startschoollater.net/myths-and-misconceptions.html#answer5 No one can survive on 6 hours of sleep a night and that is the most our teens can expect to get with our school schedules, even if they lived in a cave with no electricity.
Kari O December 13, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Just to sort out a couple of things -- Mammals of other species also have circadian rhythms that shift later in adolescence, so it's unlikely that electronics and parental laxity are entirely to blame for human teens' sleep patterns. Careful science has shown that when adolescents are allowed to start school an hour later, they recapture that hour of sleep in general, rather than staying up another hour. Canadian public high schools start at 9; a few are experimenting with moving to 10 to help improve student performance. The Finnish school start time varies by time of year and the amount of light available. The South Korean government had to ban Saturday school in order to preserve some hope for balance and family time. Even if we thought we'd want to model our system on South Korea's, rather than the higher achieving Finnish system, we STILL wouldn't be starting high school before 8. Most of us did NOT have to get up at 5:30 to be at school -- this shift happened to save transportation costs, not because anybody thought it was good for our kids. A return to more traditional high school start times is certainly called for if we want to create a new generation of healthy and high achieving youth.


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