OPINION: School Start Times Are Troubling Students At Longfellow


Photo by Mehmet Y. and Evan C.

Students are often sleepy in the morning due to the early start time of middle school


Adjusting sleep schedules is one of the most difficult transitions for students starting middle school. Start times are much earlier than elementary schools in Fairfax County, leaving students with the tough task of adjusting their sleep schedules. 

“I’m tired in every class, and I can’t pay that much attention,” 8th grader Umar Little stated. Umar estimated he gets only 4 hours of sleep a night due to his extracurricular activities. 

Longfellow starts at 7:30 in the morning. After school, many students have sports or other activities on top of homework or studying for tests, so they often don’t go to sleep until around 10 P.M  to 12 P.M. 

“I feel like falling asleep in the second and first periods,” Jameson M. explained. “I sleep about 6 to 7 hours a night.”

According to the Sleep Foundation, middle schoolers should be sleeping eight to eleven hours every night as their ages vary from 12-14. ClevelandClinic, a medical website, lists short-term problems like lack of alertness, excessive daytime sleepiness, impaired memory, and relationship stress.  Long-term effects can also include physical appearance changes like dark circles and even more wrinkles. And that’s not to mention that immune systems get a big hit. 

“If I get less sleep, I usually feel stressed,” exclaimed Hassan Mohammed, who claims to sleep around 6 hours a night due to a combination of extracurricular activities and school start times.

According to UT Health, a medical office in Houston, “If our sleep schedule is changed or interrupted, our alertness, mood, ability to creatively think, and even our school performance drop.” 

Science News Explores reported on a study that shows even if students spend hours studying for a test, too little or inconsistent sleep will result in lower scores.  The 2019 study entitled “Sleep quality, duration, and consistency are associated with better academic performance in college students” used sleep trackers to measure a variety of sleep parameters in a group of students. 

The study also showed that many factors are important, including quality of sleep, duration of sleep, and, most of all, consistency of sleep. Specifically, this meant that studying the night before a test had no measurable effect on the score while getting regular sleep could account for a 25% increase in the score. 

A major problem for middle schoolers is adjusting to the schedule changes at a time when their internal sleep cues are changing.  According to UCLA Health, a health insurance company in California, 

“One change in the body during puberty is closely related to how you sleep. There is a shift in the timing of your circadian rhythms. Before puberty, your body makes you sleepy around 8:00 or 9:00 pm. When puberty begins, this rhythm shifts a couple of hours later. Now, your body tells you to go to sleep around 10:00 or 11:00 pm.”

Considering all of these elements, middle school start times shouldn’t be as early as they currently are in Fairfax County. 

Student academic performances tend to drop as they don’t get enough sleep. Students naturally stay awake later, causing them to feel sleepy throughout the day and impacting focus. The sudden sleep schedule from a healthy elementary school to an unhealthy middle school with many more assignments increases student stress.