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September 19, 2014
Q. A number of recent studies in various countries have found that high-school students perform better when school starting times are pushed back to 8:30 a.m. or later. Why?
A. “Biological research shows that circadian rhythms shift during the teen years, pushing boys and girls to stay up later at night and sleep later into the morning,” reports Mark Fischetti in Scientific American magazine. Driven by melatonin in the brain, this shift starts around age 13 and gradually increases until it peaks at ages 17-19. Delaying high-school starting time so that teens can get closer to their optimal eight or nine hours of sleep had dramatic effects: grades improved on average by a quarter letter, attendance increased, depression rates decreased and car crashes declined. The common arguments against later starting time — that they interfere with after-school activities or part-time jobs — are not supported by data. Even the “bus issue” can be resolved by busing young children first and teens last, since the younger ones are more awake and ready to learn early in the morning.
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