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Doctor, Does High-School Start Too Early?

When it comes to picking the optimal start time for secondary schools, there has been a significant amount of debate. On one hand, widespread adolescent sleep deprivation and the importance of sleep on the developing teen brain supports a later start time, and while economic issues and family scheduling has long been seen as a reason to keep school times early, a recent study suggests that delaying school start times to 8:30 or later could potentially help save $83 billion in the U.S. economy within 10 years.

We asked global physicians: do you think that secondary schools should start no earlier than 8:30?

58 percent of doctors voted yes, citing a variety of health reasons:

“Later is better to allow for teen sleeping cycles.” – Emergency Medicine

 “To start the teaching at 8:30 or 9:00 would correspond to the biorhythm. A lot of children and especially young people are very tired in the early morning because they have to get up early… Especially in puberty the sleep-wake rhythm shifts. Effective learning is not yet available at 8 o’clock in the morning. We also know that the best time for class work is from 10am. Homework should be done after 3 pm, because our biorhythm is a good learning phase and everything can be recorded and done much faster.” – General Practice

 “I do not think it is logical that the students wake up at night and arrive half-awake at the first classes.” – General Surgery

 “Let them sleep in. We have so many teens taking bogus classes or on a work study program where they leave at 1 pm to work at McD’s; we can certainly give the teens who must babysit their siblings a shorter school day.” – Family Medicine

However, 42 percent of doctors voted no, arguing current early start times encourag overall productivity:

“I always had early morning classes in college and I believe that I was better off for it. It made me get my work done at a reasonable hour, get to bed before dawn and get disciplined to go to classes on time. All the recent studies clearly demonstrate that early risers in business / industry accomplish more during the day so why not start kids on the proper path at an early age!” – Gastroenterology

 “8:30 is too late. The teacher would move too far back and the day would be over quickly. For extracurricular activities there is only very little time left.” – Obstetrics & Gynecology

 “If you push back school start times one hour later, those rascally teenagers will just stay out one hour later at night…and still complain about lack of sleep.” – Pediatrics

The poll was fielded in September of 2017. 1023 physicians responded to the poll. The margin of error for the global poll was ±3%. More information about Sermo polling methodology can be found here.

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