8:30 am start: sleep on it


Have you ever had one of those mornings where everything went wrong? You hit the snooze button one too many times. You’re exhausted because last night, you were cramming for a biology test you completely forgot about. You don’t have time for breakfast—supposedly the most important meal of the day, or something. Coffee and a granola bar will have to do.

Halfway through your 30 minute commute through brutal traffic, you realize that—in your haste—you left your math homework on your desk. Not again, you think as you trudge on to another stressful day of classes in a constant state of “out of breath.”

It’s no secret that KO can be stressful. Teachers, coaches, advisors, parents, and peers all demand a lot of us. Often times, we’re pulled in many different directions at once, seemingly confronted on all sides by different and competing pressures.

As we struggle to juggle, organize, and prioritize challenging classwork, sports, extracurriculars, and other obligations, we tend to sleep less and less. Sleep is the first thing we cut. However, this habit is deleterious to our health and only serves to bolsters a harmful “stress culture.”  

As such, the KO school day should start later: at 8:30 a.m. on every day except Thursday. Obviously, this kind of change would require a reexamination of KO’s schedule and would certainly be a gradual transition. However, I believe the benefits would outweigh the harms.

The first reason for a later start is that students will be able to get more sleep. In a 2017 statement, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine asserted that middle and high school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. in order to allow students enough time to sleep per night.

Continued sleep deprivation has significant impacts on students’ physical and mental health.

Lack of sleep can impair teenagers’ ability to concentrate and retain information. Sleep is a critical for both short-term and long-term memory. Your immune system also relies on sleep. Sleep deprivation weakens your body’s response to viruses, for example, meaning that you’re more likely to get sick.

Sleep also has a substantial bearing on emotional health. Chronic lack of sleep can impact students’ moods and potentially lead to anxiety or depression, according to some specialists.

Teenagers are famously not “morning people,” to say the least. We are often ridiculed for our morning sleepiness and grogginess. But this disposition has a scientific basis—remember the biology test you crammed for? Adolescent brains release melatonin—your body’s sleep-regulating hormone—at different times compared to our pre-teen and adult counterparts. Some scientists argue teenage brains release melatonin a full 90 minutes later than other age groups. As a consequence, as you hit snooze on your phone for the fourth time, your brain is still releasing melatonin—making it incredibly difficult to wake up early.

Overall, students will lead happier lives if we can get the sleep we need. We will be able to concentrate in class,  have more energy for the activities we love, and be healthier in general.

Another reason why KO classes, specifically, should start later is that KO students often travel a considerable distance to come to school every day. KO is fundamentally unlike a boarding school — where a majority of students live on-campus—or a public school—where students live in that local school district. Many KO students probably have to wake up especially early in order to compensate for heavy rush-hour traffic or because they live far away from West Hartford. KO should be as considerate as possible to these students.

In a sense, KO already acknowledges students’ need for sleep by starting classes at 9 a.m. on Thursdays. The purpose of this late start—apart from the weekly faculty meeting—is to allow students to sleep-in after their Wednesday games. Why should this philosophy only apply to one day of the week?

In terms of pragmatics, the transition won’t be fast, and it might not be smooth, at first. Students and teachers and parents will need time to adjust. But like the move to a block schedule several years ago, I think this change is one KO ought to adopt.

I had the opportunity to talk with KO’s new Head of School, Tom Dillow, earlier this school year. He told me about the new block schedule he helped to implement at his previous school in Florida. He told me that the center of this initiative was to improve students’ emotional health and reduce their stress levels.

Moving the start of school to 8:30 a.m. represents an opportunity to do the same thing for KO students. To you, Mr. Dillow and the KO administration, I implore you to at least consider my proposal, to recognize that while change can be difficult, it can also be well worth it. And to students reading this, I implore you to prioritize your sleep!