Later school start times could have big impact

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Credit: Alan Cleaver

As a push for later high school start times intensifies in Seattle, a trio of Seattle doctors shared evidence Monday night that later school start times actually narrow the achievement gap between white and black students among other benefits.

The evidence came during a Town Hall-hosted panel discussion called “Start School Later, Let Teens Sleep.” Led by three specialists in child health and sleep dynamics, Wendy Sue Swanson, Pediatrician and author, Maida Lynn Chen, MD and director of the Sleep Disorders Program, and Catherine Darley, ND.

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Wendy Sue Swanson, MD. Credit:

Wendy Sue Swanson cited data from the National Sleep Foundation that eight out of 10 teens are not getting enough sleep. “Teen sleep has decreased over the past two decades.” Swanson said, making a connection between this decrease and the prevalence of media in our current age. “As pediatricians, we need to enforce a media curfew before bedtime.”

Maida Lynn Chen and Catherine Darley spoke about the effects this habitual sleep deprivation actually has on the development of young minds, saying how important it is to take this seriously in regards to education. Darley cited a quote from the CDC, “Insufficient sleep is a public epidemic.”

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Maida Lynn Chen, MD. Credit: Seattle Children's Hospital

Detractors of later school start times have argued teens will simply stay up later.

Chen disagrees. “The reality is they don't,” she said, explaining that, physiologically, teens often don't get sleepy until later at night. Later start times would mean students wouldn't have to fight against their bodies' natural schedules.

She and Darley pointed to a series of studies that have found significant benefits of later start times, including increased test scores, better judgment by teens, a decrease in teen promiscuity and, by extension, pregnancy, and fewer teen car accidents — by a factor of 16.5 percent.

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Catherine Darley, ND. Credit: The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine

Darley also pointed to data that showed later start times actually narrowed the achievement gap between Caucasian and African-American students, as represented by test scores. Educators working to narrow the achievement gap don't often factor sleep into the equation. Apparently they should.

Although self-selecting, audience members seemed on board with the later start time. Most of their questions revolved around logistics and discussions of how to convince school boards that, for teens at least, sleeping in is a good thing.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Cody Olsen

Cody Olsen was an editorial intern with Crosscut. He has a degree in Political Science from WWU, a passion for Journalism and a love for making movies on the side. This past summer he spent a few months traveling around South America and is now a bit of a travel junkie. He can be reached at