Sleep for California Students

Emily Woo ‘22

Lucky Californian teens can look forward to a few extra minutes of beauty sleep. A new law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 13 with “heartwarming and discerning understanding” (in the words of state Senator Anthony Portantino) will make California the first state to require later school start times. It is no secret that sleep deprivation is a growing epidemic among the nation’s youth – this law attempts to remedy that.


Schools will have ample time to adjust their schedules accordingly, as changes need not be implemented until the start of the 2022-23 school year or by the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement, whichever comes later. The shift will apply to both public and charter schools, with middle schools starting no earlier than 8:00 a.m. and high schools no later than 8:30. Realistically, the adjustment in start time may result in a later end time but this will vary from district to district. 


Rural districts are, however, exempt from this law, given that many students in these areas have a considerable commute and need to help their families on the farm. Schools may also still offer a “zero period”, or an optional early period.


Schools in Australia and New Zealand have tried out later start times, with some even starting past 10 a.m. School officials confirmed this helped with alertness in class. On the contrary, schools in South Korea typically start before 8 a.m. and offer classes into the night, with the majority of the student population sleep-deprived and the suicide rate among them alarmingly high. 


Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on one’s immediate and long-term health. In addition to increasing the risk of a car accident, inadequate sleep contributes to attention and behavioral problems, diabetes, high stress levels, and hypertension – all of which can lead to depression, self-harm, and in extreme cases, suicide. Proper sleep is necessary to improve not only the health and safety of an individual, but also those around them. However, teens these days lack the sleep they need and an obvious reason for that is school. Teens are forced to rise early and attend school in direct contrast to what their circadian rhythms want to do. A later start time would allow students to sleep in a little bit later and hopefully fulfill their sleep needs. 


The benefits to this law are obvious, but the law was met with much controversy due to the fact that many working parents will now be unable to drive their children to school. Furthermore, after-school extracurriculars could be pushed quite late into the night. Fortunately, the latter may not be much of a problem as a teen’s body is wired to stay up late and rise late, and with a later start time they will be able to do so. 


Despite the controversy, California becomes the first state to ever implement a law such as this, setting a precedent for other states to follow. Students across America now have a new hope that California has kickstarted the national campaign for later school start times.