New Jersey’s state assembly has introduced a bill that would require later school start times for the state’s high schools. Under the proposed bill, which is supported by the governor, high schools would not be able to begin classes before 8:30 a.m.
According to NJ.com, the assembly members who are sponsoring the bill (A3816) proposed later school start times with “concern over the mental health of children and teens after two years of upheaval because of COVID-19.”
“Ensuring students are getting enough rest is an important first step toward addressing the alarming rise in student mental health issues we’re seeing in New Jersey,” said state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth.Source: NJ.com
In 2019, California passed a state law that required later start times for its middle schools and high schools. Under the CA bill, middle schools were required to begin classes no earlier than 8:00 a.m. and high schools at 8:30 a.m.
According to statistics cited by NJ.com, New Jersey’s average school start time is 7:51 a.m., while the US national average is 8 a.m.
The New Jersey bill would not place requirements on middle schools or elementary schools.
There is an abundance of research that shows later school start times improve child sleep, which affects other aspects of their health, including mental health.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling for middle schools and high schools to begin classes no earlier than 8:30am. The AAP statement said: “The evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents. An estimated 40% of high schools in the United States currently have a start time before 8 AM; only 15% start at 8:30 AM or later. The median middle school start time is 8 AM, and more than 20% of middle schools start at 7:45 AM or earlier,” according to an article on Sleep Review.
RT’s sister publication Sleep Review has extensive coverage on the topic. Some of that research is summarized below:
Study of 28,000 Students Finds Later School Start Times Facilitate Adequate Sleep
A new study in SLEEP demonstrates the significant benefits of later school start times for middle and high school students’ sleep schedules.
Approximately 28,000 elementary, middle, and high school students and parents completed surveys annually, before changes to school start times and for two years afterward. Participating elementary schools started 60 minutes earlier, middle, 40-60 minutes later, and high school started 70 minutes later. Student and parent surveys separately asked about students’ typical bedtime and wake time on both weekdays and weekends. The surveys also asked respondents to report on students’ quality of sleep and their experience of daytime sleepiness.
Researchers found that the greatest improvements in these measures occurred for high school students, who obtained an extra 3.8 hours of sleep per week after the later start time was implemented. More than one in ten high school students reported improved sleep quality and one in five reported less daytime sleepiness. The average “weekend oversleep,” or additional sleep on weekends, amongst high schoolers dropped from just over two hours to 1.2 hours, suggesting that with enough weekday sleep, students are no longer clinically sleep deprived and no longer feel compelled to “catch up” on weekends.
Sleep Health Journal Highlights How Later School Start Times Improve Health
The latest article published in the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) Sleep Health journal highlights the importance of later school start times for adolescents.
“Simply put, later school start times improve adolescent sleep, health, safety, and learning,” says Lauren Hale, PhD, article coauthor and National Sleep Foundation Board chair, in a statement. “Moving forward, we need to identify the most effective ways to build school health policies that support student sleep, as well as educate the wider school community.”
Pandemic Shows ‘Delaying School Start Times Could Help’ Support Teen Mental Health
While poor sleep was linked to higher levels of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, more teens actually obtained the recommended amount of sleep compared to pre-pandemic sleep patterns, according to a new study from McGill University. Changes to daily routines triggered by lockdowns allowed teenagers to follow their biological impulse to wake up and sleep later, reducing daytime sleepiness.
“Shorter sleep duration and higher level of arousal at bedtime were linked to higher levels of stress, whereas longer sleep and lower level of arousal at bedtime was linked to reduced stress,” says Gruber, who is also the director of the Attention, Behaviour and Sleep Laboratory at the Douglas Research Centre.