Research shows delaying school start times corresponds with better performance

By Justine Fraser

A student from Kitchener brought up the idea of delaying school start times to Waterloo Region District School Board trustees back in June. No changes were made to school schedules.

Delaying start times for some schools was discussed in 2012 by the local school board but was ultimately put on the backburner. The report showed there could be an impact to bus schedules, extra curricular activities and sports if they changed the start time.

High school students in the region generally start between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. but experts in the field say even a small shift in start times could benefit student’s learning and memory.

Research from mental health experts such as COMPASS Systems, which operates out of the University of Waterloo, show there is a correlation between delaying school start times and student’s learning abilities. COMPASS System’s mental health lead and co-investigator, Karen Patte, is also an associate professor of health sciences for Brock University.

Patte said students today are getting less sleep then in previous generations.

“We’ve seen it decline over several decades in terms of sleep duration. There also more often reporting being tired during the day,” said Patte.

Patte expanded on this stating “Our research, we looked at a number of schools that shifted their start times. We found that even these minor shifts, later were positive for getting more sleep, earlier resulted in less sleep. This tells us that adolescent sleep times are sensitive to school start times.”

Delayed start times could improve student’s academic performance overall, Patte added.

Their research showed that schools that did change their start times to later in the morning saw no indication of an impact to a student’s extra curricular activities, physical health or an increase in screen time for students.

“There is evidence that their academics do improve. Sleep is very important to learning or memory consolidation. You need to be rested to actually be alert and to learn,” said Patte.

Furthermore she explained “We have our early birds; we have our night owls but were expected to adhere to these sleep schedules. People whose circadian rhythm don’t align with them suffer, that is shown at any age.”

Patte also mentioned better sleep directly correlates to better mental health.

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