Belmont, MA: A Push to Change School Hours

Belmont, Massachusetts is taking on the challenge of starting school later. They describe the known research on sleep health:

“We need sleep to survive, it’s essential just as is food, water and shelter,” said Prestwich. It the body chemical melatonin that dictates sleep; when it goes up, you feel sleepy; when it falls, you wake up.

This is especially true for teens. During puberty, the circadian rhythms shift by three hours, from about 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. In the local survey conducted by four volunteers at the high school, 55 percent of students said they get to bed after 11 p.m.

So waking up a teen at 6 a.m., when medical experts recommend a minimum of eight hours, is the equivalent of an adult being forced up at 4 a.m.

“We drag them out of bed at the time their body clock is saying ‘you should be sleeping’,” said Prestwich.

The reason for the majority of teens are walking about half awake is simple: school, or more precisely, the time it begins.

“If you ask people if they think that schools should start later they’ll say no. ‘Why change?’ they’ll ask. It’s great for our schedule and for athletics’,” said Prestwick. “But if you explain the harm this is doing to our kids, then they are much more likely to say, ‘Oh well. Maybe we should shift it’,” she said. “It is complicated, but it’s possible, it’s doable. It’s a challenge but a challenge that is vital to take on,” she said.