Study Finds Potential Economic Upside To Starting School Later In The Day

Sep 6, 2017
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This is what it takes for Wendy Troxel to get her 14-year-old son out of bed so that he can get to school by 7:30.

WENDY TROXEL: I throw on the lights, speak in a very loud voice. I often shake him. I tickle his feet. It's brutal.


Troxel is a sleep researcher and says her mornings are easy compared to some of her clients.

TROXEL: And they resort to everything from yanking off the sheets to yelling fire to, you know, splashing them with water just to rouse their child out of bed. And then when their child gets out of bed, you know, they're moody, depressed.

SHAPIRO: She says they're not just being teenagers. They're sleep-deprived. Teens are biologically driven to go to bed late and sleep in. But the average start time in middle and high schools is 8:03 in the morning.

SIEGEL: In her role as a scientist at the RAND Corporation, Wendy Troxel joined up with an economist colleague to determine the economic impact of pushing school start times back to 8:30 a.m. or later. That's the time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TROXEL: We found nationwide, if such a move were to occur, that this could contribute up to around $83 billion to the U.S. economy over a decade span.

SHAPIRO: They based that finding on two projections. Fatal car crashes involving sleep-deprived teens would go down. Car crashes are the biggest killer of U.S. teenagers. And if students got more sleep, they would do better in school and earn more throughout their lives.

SIEGEL: Eighty-three billion dollars - billion with a B - is certainly attention-grabbing, but the health research supporting this move has been out there for decades.

TROXEL: It really seems like it should be a no-brainer. So why is it that today, only 18 percent of schools start at the recommended 8:30 or later?

SIEGEL: Some reasons - the cost of changing bus schedules or lighting sports facilities for practice after sunset - also students wanting to get out early enough to go to part-time jobs. Plus, some say early wake-ups prepare students for the real world.

SHAPIRO: RAND researcher Wendy Troxel hopes that their findings on the economic benefits might outweigh all of that resistance. For now, she'll have to keep tickling her high school sophomore's feet every morning at 6:00.