Citing convenience, transportation issues, and financial factors in their decisions, various elementary schools have adjusted their start times so that school begins earlier. There are great disadvantages to these earlier start times due to child sleep issues. These need to be thoroughly explored before such a move is made.
According to the Research and Educational Services Department of the New York State United Teachers, studies have shown that student learning can be influenced by sleep patterns. These include how much sleep the child gets, the time, and the rhythmic cycles of the body, or circadian rhythms. When the school start times are moved earlier, many students do not get the same amount of sleep as with the later times.
Some proponents of earlier start times say that students can just go to bed earlier. This is not always practical or even possible. Many students are in extra-curricular activities such as sports, dance, tutoring and more. Parents may get home late from work, necessitating later dinner times. The entire family’s schedule may already be set. When the earlier start times occur, the students will simply get less sleep.
Sleep is very important for elementary school students. When children are sleep deprived, they may experience significant side effects such as difficulty with their memory, a lowered performance, and slower response times. Rapid eye movement (REM) is an intense period of sleep that has been studied thoroughly. If the elementary school children’s sleep becomes so deprived that they miss out on this sleep, then they may be irritable, anxious, depressed, less able to complete complex problems, less creative and unable to concentrate.
Researchers have also studied the performance of school age children in relation to the time of day. They have found that many students perform better a little later in the day. Delaying the start times of school may have more of an impact than just a loss of sleep. The body wants to be on a rhythm. Some elementary students are even starting school while it is still dark.
When elementary school students are very tired because of a delay in school time, then they may fall asleep in school. School work will suffer as exhaustion sets in. They may also be disciplined for being tired.
Another sleep issue with earlier school times is the difference in sleep schedules between school days and the weekend. When the school start times become too early, the students may sleep much later on the weekends. Their sleep rhythms will be greatly disrupted by this constant flux of sleeping times.
Although they have advantages, earlier start times also have many disadvantages when it comes to the sleep patterns of elementary age children. Schools should look at all of the factors when creating the school schedule.