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.

Photo by Ringo Chuiu/AFP/Getty Images.


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.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

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