Opinion: early start times do more harm than good

WA should have later start times, mainly due to the sleep deprivation students are experiencing and the difficulty in safely getting to school in the dark.

Elitsa Koleva

WA should have later start times, mainly due to the sleep deprivation students are experiencing and the difficulty in safely getting to school in the dark.

Elitsa Koleva, News Editor

Getting up at 5:30 a.m. for school is really hard. I know by this point, WA students say they are used to it, but are they really? It is hard to get used to getting up so early while it is still dark out, and running on five hours of sleep.

As of late, there have been ongoing discussions on how American high schools affect students’ mental health. The pressure to not only do well in school, but also be committed to a variety of extracurricular activities including sports, volunteering, and side hobbies is extremely stressful and overwhelming. Not only that, but the hours worth of homework we are assigned each day makes it hard to go to bed on time and maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

In my opinion, early start times only serve to amplify student stress and sleep deprivation, and I seriously believe that they should be pushed back an hour. According to the CDC, a major reason why high school students do not get enough sleep is because 93% of American high schools start before 8:30 a.m. Most adults have argued that students should just go to bed earlier so that they get enough sleep, however, most teenagers naturally go to bed at later times due to poor sleeping habits that come with too much homework.

In my experience, I have found myself procrastinating doing homework because I feel overwhelmed by the fact that I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. I know, it sounds counterintuitive that I would stay up later when I have to get up so early, but I find myself so stressed over getting up at the right time and catching the bus, that I have a hard time sleeping. I also have this subconscious belief in my mind that even if I go to bed earlier, I would still not get enough sleep, so I give up on sleeping entirely.

In addition, I have found that getting up so early while it is still dark out keeps me groggy and unable to fully wake up. As a result, I have a hard time preparing for school and focusing until later in the day. In contrast, the daylight forces my brain to acknowledge that it is time to get up and I am much more efficient getting ready for school. 

Not only that, but going to the bus stop at 6:30 a.m. while it is still almost pitch dark out is dangerous. As I am getting out of my house I always have to use a flashlight to make my way out of the garage, otherwise I know I am going to trip somewhere and fall. When I wait alone at the bus stop I also feel uneasy because I cannot see my surroundings very well. According to the National Safety Council, driving in the dark also makes accidents more likely because of the limited visibility, causing there to be less time for reaction. This is concerning, given how big a capacity WPS buses hold.

I understand that part of the reason why we high schoolers are subjected to waiting for the bus in the dark is so that younger children do not have to. In the most recent Later Start Times Proposal in fiscal year 2021, it was proposed that children in grades 3-5 should start school the earliest, at 7:25 a.m., causing a backlash from parents who were concerned about the safety of their younger children. While I do agree with their concerns, I still do not think getting to school in the dark is any safer for high school students, or the best solution. Why don’t we eliminate these safety concerns altogether by increasing the start times for all grades by an hour? That way, the 7:25 a.m. start times option would be removed altogether.

Another reason why we need to start school at a later time is because, according to researchers like Yu Fang from the University of Michigan, it is very important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule because it makes people happier and more willing to work. However, because I sleep so little over the weekdays, I end up sleeping until noon over the weekend. If start times were an hour later for WA students, that would mean getting up at 6:30 a.m. Although this is still early, it minimizes the difference between getting up on a weekday and over the weekend, making our sleep schedules just a tiny bit closer to consistent.

While I do understand the concerns students have if school were to start later, as it would push extracurricular activities to end at a later time, I believe we could easily adjust to the new schedule. I know many WA students feel that the early start times do more harm than good; they not only make it incredibly hard to get up but also take a toll on our health and well-being. If start times were to increase, it would serve as a wake up call to WA students with bad sleeping schedules and really encourage them to take advantage of this opportunity, changing their sleep schedules for the better.