Won't teens just go to bed later?

No! Many districts around the country have changed start times and the fact is that teens get more sleep when start times are later. Wilton, for example, changed start times in 2006. Bedtimes remained constant and wake times shifted later. A 40 minute change in start time resulted in 35 minutes of additional sleep on school nights.

Recently, research in Seattle Public Schools after they changed start times showed that the teens are using the time for sleep.

In the survey New Canaan conducted last spring, 87% of parents and students said they would use the time for sleep.

Sleep is a basic need. It is a critical component of mental and physical health and the ability to learn. Teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night. Most of them are getting 7 or fewer hours of sleep. Over 1/3 of them are getting 6 or fewer. This is a public health crisis that we must address.

"Just as people who are hungry will eat more when given the opportunity, people who are sleep deprived will get more sleep if you give them a chance." Rafael Pelayo, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine

Don't teenagers need to learn to get up early to prepare for the "real world"?  Or, why can't they just go to bed earlier?

Sleep is a need, not a luxury; the only thing a lack of sleep prepares you for is to function below your potential. Asking a teenager to suffer sleep deprivation now in order to prepare for the real world is like asking a toddler to give up his nap in order to prepare for Kindergarten. 

Going to bed earlier is not a solution. Adolescents need about 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night, which is more than adults need. In addition, their sleep cycle shifts about two hours later, so that they have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. These changes occur in all human adolescents (and many other mammals) and are temporary. When they are adults in the real world, their sleep patterns will be adult sleep patterns. It is not coddling to allow a teenager to get enough sleep any more than it is coddling to allow them to get enough to eat.

Even universities have started to push class start times back. It is hard to do a randomized control study of the impact of start times - most high schools can't have half the kids start at 7:30 and the other at 8:30. But the US Air Force Academy did it and researchers found that the first year students who started after 8 performed better not just in the morning but all day:

"Results show that starting the school day 50 minutes later has a significant positive effect on student achievement, which is roughly equivalent to raising teacher quality by one standard deviation." 

I'm worried that our sports programs will be disrupted. 

The CIAC, New Canaan's athletic conference, has a position on the issue:  “research shows that switching to later school start times does create a more optimal learning environment and improves student achievement for high school athletes... [with later start times] interscholastic athletic activities can continue to be offered, with appropriate accommodations, within any reasonable school day structure... To do less would be to elevate high school athletics to an importance greater than that which is its true purpose.”  

Some worry that athletes will have to occasionally miss class to make it to away games on time. However, within our athletic conference, several districts have changed their start times or are working on it. Greenwich and Wilton start later. Westport and Norwalk are working on it. The momentum is going in only one direction and as other towns adjust their start times, game scheduling will be a non-issue. Although we think later start can be implemented without causing athletes to miss anymore class time than they do now, we would also argue that the enormous benefit of getting an extra hour of sleep every day of the week far outweighs the downside of an occasional missed hour of class time during a given athletic season. 

Furthermore, athletes and coaches around the world are now aware that adequate sleep is one of the most effective ways to enhance performance and reduce injuries. Christine Meier Schatz of Sleep for Success Westport created the visual below to show that sleep is a powerful sports performance enhancer. 

 

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Can't my child just make up for lost sleep on the weekends?

The first evidence of sleep deprivation is sleeping in on the weekends.
— Rafael Pelayo MD, Stanford University School of Medicine

Changing sleep patterns on weekends leads to a phenomenon that sleep scientists call social jetlag.

Let’s take the example of a teenager who needs to get up for school at 6 AM with difficulty but arises, feeling refreshed, a month into her school vacation at 9 AM. This implies three hours of social jet lag on every school day, equivalent to the jet lag of flying from San Francisco to New York five days a week. However, unlike traveling, there is no real habituation. Being jet-lagged every day sounds pretty awful, and it is the state the majority of our teens spend every day in.
— Craig Canapari MD, Director of Yale Pediatric Sleep Center

Won't teachers just move office hours and club hours to the morning?

This is certainly a concern and we have learned from other school districts, such as Palo Alto, CA, that it is important to protect morning time as part of a Later Start implementation. However, even if some teachers or clubs did meet in the mornings, this is optional, does not happen every day, and does not systematically harm every single student the way a 7:30 am start does.