Why Are We Making Our Kids Go To School So Early? A California Law Might Change That.

I have one kid in my house that is a crazy early bird, but the other two are total disasters in the morning. They struggle to get up, don’t have an appetite to eat a good breakfast at seven AM, and have a hard time just being awake enough to get out the door to school. It’s made me wonder, how much are they actually learning when their day starts so early and their little brains don’t wake up until 10 A.M. or so?


In the area where we currently live, school starts at 8:15 for my elementary kids, but 7:45 for my middle schooler. When they get to high school, their start time will be 7:30 AM. I can’t help but wonder – whose idea was it to have teenagers start school so early right when they are surging with hormones, staying up later with additional school work, and always begging to sleep in?

A New Bill In California Might Be Passed To Mandate Later School Start Times

That’s why when I heard about the new bill that California is hoping to pass regulating school start times for middle schools and high schools to start later; I was excited. Maybe by the time my kids make it to high school, it will be more the norm to start school later.

Why do I care so much about a few minutes in the morning? Well, I’ve always believed in a good night sleep. We’re pretty rigid in our house with bedtimes, and I know how much of a difference it can make in my kids’ attitudes and behavior when they get a good night’s sleep. When we are out late, and they still have to get up early, it creates all kinds of drama in our house.

Forget the fact that going to school tired can actually affect their ability to learn at the most crucial time in their school careers – when they are preparing to go to college. And, even if school doesn’t start until 7:30 they are waking up much earlier to get ready, eat, and commute.

Plenty of research has been done about teenagers and sleep that prove that their natural rhythms of sleep keep them up later at night, making it harder to go to bed in the earlier hours. Couple that with waking up super early for school, and State senator, Anthony J. Portantino who wrote the bill told the New York Times that, “It’s the biological equivalent of waking you or me up at 3:30 a.m. Imagine how you would feel if, 187 days a year, you had to get up at 3:30 a.m. You’d be miserable, you’d be depressed — you’d act like a teenager.”

Ouch. Maybe that’s what’s really wrong with all the moody teenagers in your life? OK, that’s probably not all of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it contributes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends Later School Start Times For Teenagers, Too

The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommended this change years ago. In 2014 they issued this statement, “…the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

In other words, as kids hit puberty, their bodies naturally shift to stay up later. And they aren’t getting enough sleep with early start times.

Dr. Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, and lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents, said this in the APP report, “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.”

Those are pretty good arguments, in my opinion, to let our kids sleep in a little bit longer. Even if it’s just for thirty minutes.

While the research doesn’t discuss elementary aged kids, my own personal experience is that some kids just don’t handle early wake up times well either. I know my two night owls don’t. Their bodies naturally stay up later than my other child and therefore, they have a harder time getting up in the morning.

The AAP is advocating that teenagers get between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep at night.

And, I know my elementary aged kids need even more than that.

But, one of the big hurdles this bill has to face is the fact that it will directly impact working parents. There are many parents out there that don’t have the ability to start their workday later, which will leave teens needing to take the bus to school. That brings up more issues with funding the school transportation, too.

I know parents will figure it out though. There is always carpooling, and teaching our teenagers how to use public transportation won’t hurt them in the life skills department either.

It’s still unknown if the bill will pass, but I think there is a pretty clear indicator that it needs to. The research supports it, and I’m a firm believer that kids need their sleep to thrive. That includes teenagers too.

So, I for one is hoping that California gets to set a precedent and that other schools across the country will follow suit before my kids get too much older.

Because this mama needs almost as much sleep as much as her kiddos do. Almost.