School Start FAQs

    Frequently Asked Questions

    About Insufficient Sleep and School Start Time

    Why do we think changing start times will help?  What problem are we trying to solve?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a Policy Statement on “School Start Times for Adolescents” in August 2014 recommending that high schools and middle schools start no earlier than 8:30am.  Numerous other national medical associations, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), have issued similar guidance.  They are addressing a nationwide epidemic of insufficient sleep that has serious negative physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement impacts on adolescents.  The AAP has pinpointed that delaying school start time “is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits…”


    • Why are adolescents suffering from insufficient sleep? Why can’t parents just get their kids to sleep earlier?

         There are both biological and environmental factors at play. Biologically, approximately at the onset of puberty, most adolescents experience delayed release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness.  In addition, most adolescents experience a shift in “sleep drive,” which means it takes longer to fall asleep.  As such, most adolescents cannot fall asleep before 11 pm.  

    Environmental factors also contribute to insufficient sleep, including homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology.  While important to also address these environmental factors, they will only take you so far.  

    The AASM recommends 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep for adolescents.  If a teen can’t fall asleep before 11:00 pm, he/she won’t naturally wake before 7:30 am.  Since the first buses pick up in Wayland at 6:50 am, it is impossible for most of our middle and high school students to get adequate sleep.

    Is this problem truly biological?  Why would teenagers have a different circadian rhythm?

    Yes, there truly is a biological element to it.  Recent research has corroborated a theory that different circadian rhythms at different ages acted to protect a tribe by making it more likely that there would always be a tribe member awake to watch guard.  An article on that research is online here, and the study referenced is online here.

    • How many high school and middle school students aren’t getting enough sleep?

    Student survey results in Wayland show we have slightly more sleep deprivation than the nationwide average (73% getting less than 8 hours per night vs. 70% nationwide).  By the time they reach high school, half of our students are getting 6.5 hours of sleep per night or less, significantly below the AASM recommendation of 8-10 hours.  


    Of note, Wayland MS/HS start earlier than 55% of MS/HS in MA and earlier than 80% of MS/HS nationwide.


    • If we start high school and middle school later, won’t kids just stay up later?

    Most people expect this, and even the researchers who did the original studies on this topic were surprised by the results.  Most kids do not stay up later, they just get more sleep.  Studies have shown that kids get 30-60 minutes more sleep per night when start time is delayed by 60 minutes.  (Some articles on this topic are linked online here.)  Adolescents’ ability to get to sleep is often limited by when their bodies are biologically ready to shut down, and that doesn’t change when start times change.  As such, they will generally go to sleep at about the same time, but are able to sleep longer in the morning.  Some studies have shown an even greater increase in sleep duration than the start time delay because kids are more productive when they are awake; they get their homework done faster when they are less sleep deprived and more alert.    


    • Where can I get more information on insufficient sleep and start times?

         There are a number of places to go for more information.  We have provided a few links to key information sources on the School Start Time page:

    • Do we think changing start times will solve the problem that our students aren't getting enough sleep?

    It’s important that you know, and we recognize, that changing start times is not a complete solution to this problem. We are looking at this because we want to provide our children with an environment in which is it possible to get enough sleep. But ensuring that it actually happens is a multi-faceted problem (involving choices about, for example, activities, jobs, course workload and homework) that is also complex, and will require education and commitment from all of us.

    • Why are we looking at 8:30am now when last fall we were looking at 8am?

    Two things have happened since we looked at moving HS/MS times to 8am and Elementary start times to 9am: (1) other schools have made progress on moving their start times late, and (2) we more closely evaluated moving elementary times later, and found that there were many reasons to prefer an earlier rather than a later elementary start time.

    • Why can’t we just set the times independently for the various schools (i.e., do we need to change elementary times if we change high school and middle school)?

    Wayland currently runs two tiers of buses - we pick up high school and middle school students with one set of buses and then use those same buses to subsequently pick up the elementary school students. Increasing the number of buses to allow use of a single set of buses for all school levels is extremely expensive -- a rough estimate is $800,000 per year.  It’s a decision we could choose to make, but first we would need to be convinced that was the best use of that money and that the taxpayers would support it.


    • Will an earlier start for elementary school affect learning for elementary students?

    Unlike the extensive research available on start times on middle and high school students, the research on start times for elementary students is limited and conflicting, but generally shows minimal effects of earlier or later start times. Generally, younger children have a morningness preference in their circadian rhythms and "lose steam" by mid-afternoon.  As such, earlier start times align to this timing for this age group. In contrast to elementary school children, the research on the detrimental effects of insufficient and mis-timed sleep of early start times on adolescents is absolutely solid, and the stakes are extremely high. We have posted information about elementary start times here.

    What about athletics? Will athletes be dismissed early for games? Will teams be affected?

    We will retain our policy of minimizing early dismissal for sports (and other activities), and anticipate only a small increase in the numbers of times in which this will be necessary. We expect to be able to work with league towns to ensure there is minimal impacts on sports. It is possible that there will be modest changes necessary to accommodate all the teams requiring specific high-demand fields and facilities. Coordinating with other league teams in this regard is getting easier as more towns have already made the change to a later start.

    • What about clubs and other extracurricular activities?

      Similar to sports, other towns have found no change in participation in clubs and other extra-curricular activities.  These are, fortunately, generally easier to manage as they tend to have fewer issues with conflicts, such as coordinating schedules and competing for fixed resources. Providers adjust schedules to accommodate the new release times.


    • What effect would this have on child-care arrangements for elementary students, including availability of morning BASE (Before and After School Extension) program?     

         Impact on child-care arrangements is going to vary for individual families. With young children going to school earlier in the morning, there will be a decreased need for before school care. On the other hand, with elementary school getting out earlier in the afternoon, there will likely be an increased need for after-school care. The District is committed to ensuring additional space will be available in after school BASE.    Information about the current BASE program is available at:

    • What about teachers?  What do they think about this?   

         Like the rest of us, there will be an adjustment for all of our teachers and staff.  For some, the new schedules will be preferable, for others they will be less preferred. Other districts that have implemented start time delays have worried about potential teacher turnover, but anecdotal evidence suggests this does not typically occur.  


    • What about METCO and transportation to and from Boston?

    METCO transportation always has been and will continue to be a challenge. Boston resident students have a long commute both in the morning and afternoon, and their day is considerably longer than their Wayland counterparts.  That will continue to be the case.  However, the Boston-based high school and middle school students are currently the most at-risk for sleep-deprivation among our students as they are the earliest risers in the system, and stand the most to gain from a delay in start times.    

    • How will this affect traffic flow in town?

         The District has not yet fully studied the impact to traffic flows in town.  Experience in other districts that have implemented delayed starts show that traffic patterns adjust over time to the new time.

      • Could clubs start before school? What about extra help?

           The specifics of what will and will not occur before school after start time change has not been fully worked out. We expect some extra help will occur before school, but will work to generally minimize the amount of before school activity, as this would work to offset the benefits of making start time change.

      • How will we measure the impact of making this change?

           There are a number of hard statistics that are already collected every year that will provide some useful measures of the impact of start time change. For example, we collect data on absenteeism, tardies, disciplinary measures such as office visits and suspensions, and academic measures such as grades and standardized test scores. We also get data on mental health and behavior measures from the Youth Behavior Risk Survey, and can survey the students ourselves for additional measures.


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