Why You Should Support Later School Start Times

We've all been here. Art by Elise Stearns.

We've all been here. Art by Elise Stearns.

Winter in Missoula can be tough, especially when you’re a high school student who has to drag yourself out of bed at an unnaturally early hour. Waking up in the cold and dark as the days get shorter and shorter effects all of us, but has especially significant impacts on high schoolers. Teenagers aren’t wired to go to sleep early, so having to wake up early to go to school often means that they don’t get enough sleep.

Since growing and developing takes a lot of rest, teenagers are recommended to get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but in reality most have been found to get 6-7 hours per night. We all know the that lack of sleep can have serious impacts on our health: it’s been linked to a greater risk of heart disease, depression, and more risk taking behaviors, among other things. In addition, sleep deprivation makes it harder to focus academically. One of the simplest and most effective ways to counteract this problem is to delay start times for our schools.

More studies have begun to make the link between early school start times and unhealthy teenage sleep habits, and there is growing support for schools to start later to allow their students to get the recommended amount of sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and Centers for Disease Control have all recommended later start times for high schools, as research points to the mental and physical health benefits it offers teens.

The national organization Start School Later’s Missoula chapter advocates for MCPS to move start times to at least 8:30 a.m., something that has proved challenging due to several factors. School transportation would require significant rearrangement, which would be costly, an of course after-school activities would be pushed back later into the evening. The school district has previously discussed moving to later start times for its high schools, but has encountered problems with the logistics and cost of the bus systems that would occur with the change.

Wondering what you as a Hellgate student can do to help yourself get more sleep? Since this decision is in the hands of MCPS and the Board of Trustees we can encourage them to put in place later start times. Sing and share a local petition at change.org , talk to your parents and ask them to communicate with school board and administration members about starting school earlier.  

High school is an extremely important time for learning, growing, and developing as a person. As students, we should be given all the resources we can to make the best of this opportunity, and if our health and academic performance is compromised by not getting enough sleep, school administrators need to seriously consider implementing later start times. Although transportation issues and other challenges may arise, they do not outweigh the benefits students will receive as a result of being able to get proper amounts of sleep.