A simple switch that may improve adolescent health and boost the economy.

Waking up for school (or waking children up for school) is an experience few would describe as pleasant.

Sleepy students, harried adults, and a mad rush to get to the car or bus stop before the sun comes up is the perfect storm for a frazzled, unproductive morning.

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But there's a solution so simple, it's been staring us right in the clock face: Start school later in the morning.

Right as children hit puberty, their sleep patterns naturally change. Meanwhile, their evenings are so jam-packed with homework, sports, and extracurricular activities that many have a hard time falling asleep before 10 or 11 p.m.

But this sensitive period of development also requires more sleep, something teens and preteens aren't getting if they have to wake up before dawn for school. One solution that's been tossed around is pushing back our school days to give teens a chance to catch a few more z's.

The benefits of a later start time are backed by numerous studies. Middle- and high-school students with a later start time saw increases in test scores. Conversely, research suggests a lack of sleep or poor sleep can increase a teen's risk of experiencing depression, using drugs or alcohol, and getting involved in a car accident.

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While later start times are clearly a win for the mental and physical health of students, a new study reveals it may be a win for the economy too.

A recent economic analysis from the RAND Corporation explored the economic implications for starting school at 8:30 a.m. The team examined policies and used complex macroeconomic models to estimate changes in economic performance.

The models suggest a later start time could contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy within a decade and $8.6 billion in the first two years alone!

Where does all of that money come from? The extra hour of sleep students get from a delayed start can increase the likelihood of graduating high school by 13.3%. It also increases the college attendance rate by almost 10%. This may mean better jobs with higher wages, which means more money for the economy.

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The economic contribution could actually be even more substantial, as RAND did not factor in the health benefits of additional sleep (save for decreased car crashes) into their model.

"We have not included other effects from insufficient sleep, such as higher suicide rates, increased obesity and mental health issues, which are all difficult to quantify precisely," Marco Hafner, a senior economist at RAND Europe, told The University Paper. "Therefore, it is likely that the reported economic and health benefits from delaying school start times could be even higher across many U.S. states."

Ultimately, the health and academic benefits of a later start time should be enough for districts to act. And many have.

Advocacy group Start School Later details success stories from schools and districts in 45 states that have experimented with later start times. In most cases, it's a welcome change for students and parents.

But if a financial benefit is what some districts or states need to consider a later start time, consider this study a wake-up call. Because when it comes to raising well-rested, happy, engaged kids, there's no hitting snooze.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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