Would Letting Kids Sleep In More Help Academic Results? Please Say Yes

You know one thing I’m thankful for? My Education Policy Center friends never order a wake-up call to get me out of bed early so they can help me write this blog. Little prodigies like me need all the sleep we can (though I try not to concede that argument when my mom tells me it’s time to hit the hay).

A couple years ago I directed your attention to research that suggested small positive benefits for middle schoolers who delayed early start times. Interesting fodder to file away in the back compartments of the brain, and move along.

Until, that is, I recently found an article by Colorado’s own Holly Yettick in Education Week that highlights an international study calling out the U.S. for having the highest rate of sleepy students in the secondary grades. Or at least that’s based on what teachers report in surveys.

The Education Week story also cites a 2011 “meta-analysis” that found teenagers in Asia stay up the latest on school nights. The discussion then may not be all about how much sleep they’re getting, but also could include what they’re doing at night. It’s probably not a stretch to think many more of those Asian adolescents are using the extra time to study for school.

But then the question policymakers are better equipped to control is the time school starts the next morning. If we have some research suggesting it works for middle schoolers to push that time later, would we find fewer teachers reporting that student sleepiness is a problem? The survey itself isn’t foolproof, by any means, since I’m left asking if Asian teachers have different standards of sleepiness, see it as an excuse, or just don’t care to report it as a problem.

No doubt there are other factors not directly related to students’ well-being that have led many secondary schools and the districts that run them to open doors in the wee hours (you know, before 8 o’clock). Is it a good idea to delay things a bit? The website StartSchoolLater.net is to be applauded for trying to raise awareness on this issue.

Many things that I write about on this blog have little or nothing to do with any “silver bullet” ideas to “fix” all the ills of education. This certainly qualifies as one of them. But I like to throw ideas into the mix, and get parents and local school leaders thinking.

Yes, local leaders — with input from the students and families affected. The last thing we need is a state law dictating an approach. But weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks for students, I bet we would see more Colorado middle and high schools sliding back their start times as one more small lever to help lead to success.

Meanwhile, time for little old me to roll over and go back to sleep….