Alison Yin for EdSource
A California bill would require all middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to address health issues related to teen sleep deprivation.

While California legislators debate a bill to ban secondary schools from starting before 8:30 a.m., a new report shows the change could contribute $10.2 billion to the state’s economy within 10 years and $24.8 billion after two decades.

In fact, if all schools nationwide were to convert to this later start time, the RAND Corporation and RAND Europe found that the U.S. economy would get an $83 billion boost within a decade.

The RAND report released Wednesday is the first-ever economic analysis of 47 states based on a shift in school start times. It is a follow-up to research by RAND Europe in 2016 that found insufficient sleep among U.S. workers causes economic losses of up to $411 billion a year.

The report comes just as the California Assembly Appropriations Committee is planning to vote on SB 328 — the later school start time bill — on Friday. The Senate has already approved the bill, which could go to a full vote in the Assembly if the committee gives it a thumbs-up.

The economic estimates are based in part on the projected higher academic performance of students including higher graduation rates, along with reduced car crash rates from accidents caused by drowsy teen drivers.

The study also includes a cost-benefit ratio based on increased costs due to changing bus schedules and adding athletic field lights for nighttime games, said Wendy Troxel, a sleep researcher at RAND who co-authored the report.

Based on these estimates, RAND projects that California schools would break even after two years and would reap $3.55 in cost benefits for every dollar spent after 20 years, she said.

“Within five years, the benefits outweigh costs 2 to 1,” she said. “Quantifying these benefits is so important because one of the big challenges in implementing later start times — despite the public health research — is the concern about cost. Really up to this point, there had not been data to quantify the costs or the benefits.”

Sleep research shows that around the time of puberty, teenagers experience a delay of about two hours in their biological clocks, which determines when they feel awake and when they feel sleepy, Troxel said. This is based on the hormone melatonin, she explained.

“Effectively, this means most teenagers don’t even feel sleepy until about 11 p.m. and the peak levels persist until the early morning hours, right when we’re trying to wake our children and get them out of bed,” she said. “A 6 a.m. wake-up time is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4 a.m., because of that melatonin shift.”

It is recommended that teens get a minimum of eight to 10 hours of sleep, she said, adding that less sleep also deprives them of rapid eye movement sleep that is associated with learning, memory and emotional processing — “the building blocks of effective learning.”

Although public health research has also shown that sleep deprivation in teens can lead to suicidal thoughts and obesity, Troxel said the RAND study did not take those into consideration because they were too difficult to quantify economically.

“If anything,” she said, “these are underestimates.”

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  1. CarolineSF 3 months ago3 months ago

    I also have plenty of experience with teens’ sleep cycles, so I get it. But I’d like to know who funded the RAND studies. We’ve seen so many miracle solutions gushed over and then fizzle away — will we ever gain a little skepticism?

  2. Bobby 3 months ago3 months ago

    As a very near future teacher, I would also appreciate later start times! In my area, high schools start at 7:30, which is just too early for anyone to function normally. I am a firm believer sleep is a huge waste of time to begin with, but I do love it just as well. Later start times would just make everyone happier.

  3. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    I really appreciate the intent here but I'm not sure our Sacramento legislature is the best place to make this a hard and fast rule. The difference between starting at 7 and 8:30, sure, that's going to be significant, but maybe not so much between 8 vs 8:30 or 8:15 vs 8:30. Rather, I would prefer to leave this up to local districts, even if the way it's set up is that the district has … Read More

    I really appreciate the intent here but I’m not sure our Sacramento legislature is the best place to make this a hard and fast rule. The difference between starting at 7 and 8:30, sure, that’s going to be significant, but maybe not so much between 8 vs 8:30 or 8:15 vs 8:30. Rather, I would prefer to leave this up to local districts, even if the way it’s set up is that the district has to have a public hearing and a specific resolution to choose an earlier time.

    Local conditions matter. Not every California high school has air conditioning for example, so you’re trading the early time at the risk of losing productivity in classrooms that are in excess of 85 degrees. Not clear that’s a win for concentration. The time of dawn and dusk is significantly different from San Diego to Crescent City. For most kids the interesting question isn’t just when does the first bell ring but when do they have to leave their house to get to school on time, another factor that can vary greatly.

    We know we are underfunding our schools and sucking away resources already with increases in PERS and STRS and the minimum wage. Schools are having to be very creative to keep the services the kids depend on strong. Taking away another bit of flexibility again may harm the overall education schools can deliver.

    Instead, make it a Strong Suggestion, make it straightforward to opt out with notice to the community, and let local control hold. Then audit the choices districts made to opt out and assess whether additional action is appropriate or necessary.

  4. SDParent 3 months ago3 months ago

    Any parent of teens can attest to the fact that they are not really awake until around noon, so I agree with the concept of later start times for secondary schools. However, it's worth pointing out that the cost of implementation is all borne by the schools/school districts, while the benefits are reaped by the students and society as a whole (via the economy). So before the Legislature votes to implement yet another … Read More

    Any parent of teens can attest to the fact that they are not really awake until around noon, so I agree with the concept of later start times for secondary schools. However, it’s worth pointing out that the cost of implementation is all borne by the schools/school districts, while the benefits are reaped by the students and society as a whole (via the economy).

    So before the Legislature votes to implement yet another plan that benefits the state economy on the backs of schools, it needs to make sure to provide school districts with the funding to implement it because school districts are already financially burdened by other plans the Legislature voted to implement without providing the funding (e.g. reducing the unfunded liability in CalSTRS by requiring school districts to pay for the bulk of it).