It’s 6:55 am and I stand near the coffee pot in the kitchen. My 10th grader saunters in. “I hate school” is the first thing she says to me. We don’t really use the “hate” word much in our house, so I know this is serious. She’s exhausted and her pathological state of being tired has made everything difficult. But she actually goes to bed pretty early for a 15 year old; her phone is left downstairs at 9 pm and her light goes out at 10:30 pm. It’s just that then she lays there, unable to fall asleep. It’s beyond frustrating. When I ask her why she hates school so much, she simply says “Well, I know why sleep deprivation is used as torture in prisons.” That comes from a well-adjusted honors student.
Lack of adequate sleep for adolescents and teenagers is a public health crisis in this country. Evidence supports this. While we parents can certainly help by ensuring phones and devices are put away at night, we can do nothing to change the biorhythms of young people. Their bodies naturally stay awake later at night and wake up later in the morning. By changing school start times, we can do so much to end fighting the sleepiness war that these kids can’t win. Being tired all the time is beyond miserable.
But change is difficult and our school district, while fully acknowledging the reams of data that say it’s profoundly unhealthy to deprive adolescents of sleep, has not yet figured out a way to make the change. So, we’ve made a change ourselves.
Next semester, our daughter’s first hour class will be an online course. She can complete the work anytime during the day. This allows her to get nearly an hour more sleep every single day. That’s almost an extra night of sleep each week. She cannot wait for the change and we are really looking forward to seeing her more rested and frankly, just the happy girl that we know she is. And, maybe, the first thing I’ll hear to start the day might even be “Good morning”.
Renee Leinbach, MPH
I graduated from St Paul public high school in 2015. At the start of my senior year, I had the option for a late start instead of having a class first period. I was amazed the difference it made.
Since middle school, I had been waking up very early, often on seven or less hours of sleep, and was always very tired during the day. Before the late start, my mom would always have to be the one to wake me up to make sure I got to my bus. I woke up almost every morning feeling cranky and dreading the start of the day.
Having the later start time meant I got to have an extra hour of sleep, and it made a world of difference in my physical and emotional well-being. I was able to wake up on my own, I wasn’t falling asleep in classes. I was in a getter mood and had much more energy for my after-school athletics and homework. Having a later start time benefitted me greatly and I believe it would benefit all students.
Alex Malm, Former St Paul Public High School student
We live in the Wayzata School district and this is the start of the second year of the change in start times whereby the high school students start at 8:20 instead of 7:30 as it was previously.
I personally love this change as my high schooler needs the extra sleep in the morning.
I wish this would have been in place when my older daughter was in high school.
Also, when my now high schooler was in elementary school, she was up at 5:30-6 and did not start school until 9:10, it was a long morning of unproductive time prior to even going to school. Now the elementary kids start school at 7:45 which would’ve been so ideal when I was in that situation.
Although I realize change is hard, this change has made sense and I have personally benefited from the change with my daughter who is now a freshman at Wayzata High School.