practice before school, take the bus, or need to drive or bicycle a fair distance to school, means getting up before the sun. And that of course means very little sleep if they weren’t able to fall asleep before midnight.
What’s driven this change in start times? In a word, money. Ever-increasing financial pressures have caused schools to make changes that will save them cash, and one of those changes involved transportation. School districts have found that it’s less expensive if the same buses and drivers bring all the students to school, rather than have separate buses and drivers for each school, and that the only way to do that is to get the buses started early, which means classes must start early as well. Getting kids to school early also helps reduce rush-hour traffic, which makes businesses and municipalities surrounding the schools very happy.
But it doesn’t make teens happy, or healthy, or high performing. Certainly the powers that be who made the start-time changes didn’t mean to cause students harm—they only wanted to improve the district’s bottom line. But it turned out that earlier start times negatively affect teens—by depriving them of precious sleep. As you read in the previous chapters, not sleeping through four to five cycles of all five sleep stages—which you can’t do if you’re sleeping only from midnight to 6:00 a.m.—keeps teens not only performing at a lower level but learning at a lower level. That change of one to one and a half hours in start time has had an enormous, damaging effect.
Everyone has to deal with pressure, of course, but teens do get a big dose of it pretty much everywhere they turn—and that keeps them up at night worrying. In their social lives, which are enormously important to them, there is pressure to fit in, know what’s going on, and stay in close touch with friends. At home, their parents are constantly urging them to study more and participate in activities so they’ll be accepted by a selective college, as well as help out with family responsibilities. And of course high school is one giant pressure cooker. There teens not only need to keep on top of hours and hours of classes and