If Florida schools let teenagers sleep in, the state would get a $9 billion economic boost over the next 15 years.
That’s according to a new report from nonprofit research organization RAND Corporation, which found that moving school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high schools would reduce the number of fatal car crashes and help kids do better in school, increasing the likelihood that students graduate from high school and go on to college. Overall, the analysis found, the extra sleep would boost the U.S. economy by $83 billion within a decade and result in economic gains of $641 million in Florida after just two years.
“A small change could result in big economic benefits over a short period of time for the U.S.,” said Marco Hafner, a senior economist at RAND Corporation’s European affiliate RAND Europe, in a statement.
It’s no secret that teens need more sleep than adults — and are naturally inclined to sleep in later. Health experts recommend adolescents get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, but early school start times make that a challenge for most kids. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association recommend middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
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But while that sounds like a good idea in theory, Miami-Dade schools tested out later start times a few years ago and found that they didn’t necessarily translate into more sleep. The district launched a pilot program at several high schools in 2014, allowing 150 teens to take one of their classes online, at any time of day, and come in after 8:30 a.m. That’s more than an hour after the usual start time at most Miami-Dade high schools, where classes begin around 7:20 a.m.
The district studied the results with help from doctoral students at Florida International University and surveyed the participating students. A little under 30 percent of the teens admitted that they just ended up going to bed later every night, said Luis Diaz, an administrative director in school operations.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nationally, around 80 percent of middle and high schools start before 8:30 a.m., according to the RAND report, creating an “inherent conflict” between adolescent biology and school start times.
Studies have linked a lack of sleep among teens to physical and mental health issues, suicidal thoughts and concentration problems, as well as obesity and an increased risk of engaging in violent crime, the report says.
An additional hour of sleep every night increases the probability that a student will graduate from high school and attend college, according to the report. A high school and college diploma impact a teen’s future career options and future earnings — and a previous Brookings Institution study found that a one-hour delay in school start times would lead to a $175,000 increase in lifetime earnings.
But school districts have been reluctant to delay the start of the school day, citing the costs of changing bus schedules and the complications of rescheduling after-school sports practices.
Using a macroeconomic model, RAND analysts compared the costs to the potential economic gains of having a better-educated and higher-earning workforce and a reduction in the number of fatal car accidents among adolescents. The study found that while states wouldn’t see any economic gains immediately, over time the change would provide a huge economic boon.
In California, lawmakers appear to be taking note. State legislators there are considering a bill that would mandate school start times of no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for middle and high school students.
Miami-Dade’s Diaz said school officials have continued to discuss whether delaying start times is a good idea. “We are definitely engaging in the conversation in trying to figure out if this went this way, what kind of impact it would have,” Diaz said. “We recognize the national attention it gets and we want what’s best for all our kids.”
Diaz said Miami-Dade is weighing a number of factors, including the impact the change would have on teachers and traffic patterns, as well as the costs associated with changing school schedules. The School Board would have the ultimate say in delaying start times.
For now, Miami-Dade teens will have to hold off on reaching for the snooze button.