Here's What Happened When a Seattle High School Changed Its Start Time


If you start school later, do teens just stay up later?

A debate is raging over teenage sleep. Some say schools should start later so teens can get more sleep. Other say that, if you start school later, teens will just stay up later. Recently, two high schools in Seattle put this idea to the test.

The schools changed their start times from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Researchers, teachers and parents waited to see what would happen.

As it turned out, teens at these schools got 34 minutes more sleep a night. Before the change, teens were getting six hours and 50 minutes of sleep a night. After the change, they started getting seven hours and 24 minutes of sleep.

“This study shows a significant improvement in the sleep duration of students — all by delaying school start times so that they’re more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents,” said Horacio de la Iglesia, a University of Washington professor who studied the change.

The study also found the teens got better grades and were more likely to show up to class on time.

"Most teenagers are chronically sleep deprived," pointed out the study's authors. Electronics contribute to this deprivation, but so do genes. Teens have different circadian rhythms than adults. They're programmed to fall asleep later and stay up later.

“To ask a teen to be up and alert at 7:30 a.m. is like asking an adult to be active and alert at 5:30 a.m.,” added de la Iglesia. "Adolescents find themselves caught between two competing yet equally important forces: their circadian and homeostatic regulation of sleep, which delays sleep onsets, and their social obligations, which impose early sleep offsets resulting in a net decrease in daily sleep," continue the study's authors.

You can't change genes. But you can change school schedules.

“School start time has serious implications for how students learn and perform in their education,” said de la Iglesia. “Adolescents are on one schedule. The question is: What schedule will their schools be on?”