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OP/ED: Starting Elementary School Too Early Increases Risk Of Obesity, Behavioral Problems & ADHD

By Nicole Pelletier, MS, CSCS - Professor of Contemporary Health & Natural Sciences and parent of two, young, school age children in GDRSD.


   The debate about pushing school start times for high school students often neglects to include the conversation about the impact on elementary school students. In 2017, a report was released by Brian Callahan, a member of the Newburyport School Committee, detailing Massachusetts top 50 schools stances on pushing high school start times later than 8am.(10) 12 percent have chosen to change start times based on recommendations from Start School Later. (8,10)

   The motivation for moving school start times later has centered around the effects on high school students. One problem with many of these studies is that they are not longitudinal studies, meaning they only compare one year to the next and do not look at the data over a broader scope of time. When the studies do focus longitudinally, it is found that tardiness and behavioral issues decrease but the amount and quality of sleep remain unchanged. Additionally, a large gap in the data from these studies, is the negative impact of moving elementary school start times to significantly earlier. Below is a summarization of the effects of earlier start times for our elementary age students.

   According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), children between the ages of six and 12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep in a day. (1)(2) With a bell schedule change to 7:45 a.m., a child that would be capable of achieving 10 hours of sleep with the 9 a.m. school start time would only be capable of achieving 8.6 hours of sleep.

   Assuming the parents would still rely on after-school care, the earlier start time would also require the child to increase from 1.7 hours in after school care to 3.2 hours. As illustrated in the graph below, the earlier bell schedule will not allow the child to meet minimum sleep requirements, causing sleep restriction.

   Sleep restriction (not meeting minimum required hours of sleep) for an elementary aged child has been linked to increased rates in obesity (3, 4), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (5), and increased behavioral problems (7, 9), among many other health risks. This is a time in a child’s life when their parents have the most control over their sleep schedules and the ability to set them up for success or allow failure. According to the National Institute for Health, “associations between short sleep duration in early childhood and obesity are consistently found.” (3) Increased numbers in ADHD cases were mainly linked to ‘primary school’ (5) when they did not meet minimum required hours of sleep. This is evident in the longitudinal study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sleep Research studying 8,195 students over the course of 12 years: “At every evaluation, children with ADHD and related sub-types had decreased sleep duration compared with the rest of the cohort, but this was more marked and only statistically significant during the younger primary school years.” (5) Finally, recent research published in 2017 has concluded that pushing elementary start times earlier creates more behavioral problems due to “curtail[ing] sleep and inadvertently restricting sleep schedules”. (7,9)

   In conclusion, moving elementary age students to a 7:45 a.m. start time is detrimental to their behavioral development and does not allow them to achieve the minimum number of required hours of sleep as recommended by numerous health organizations. We are teaching elementary age children  habits for the rest of their lives and are in the most control of their schedules. We want to set them up for success in both habits and health. Placing the school start time at 7:45 a.m. would not set up our elementary age students for success.

   The GDRSD School Committee has currently narrowed down the four options provided by the Transportation Consultant to option 3 and 4, option 3 being their ‘favorite’ with elementary beginning at 7:45 a.m.; high school at 8:30 a.m. and middle school at 9 a.m. (The transportation proposal may be found at: GDRSD Transportation Efficiency Study and Later High School Start

   Time Analysis (January 10, 2019) slides 31-38 highlight the options.) They have reached out to the consultant for further options. To voice your opinion, the next school committee meetings take place at 7 p.m. in the High School library on 2/27, 3/6, 3/13 & 3/20 or you can reach out to the GDRSD School Committee Chair, Marlena Gilbert at mgilbert@

Reference List:

(1)American Academy of Pediatrics. (June 13, 2016). American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines. Retrieved [February 2, 2019] from

 [ ]

(2) National Sleep Foundation. (2018) Excessive Sleepiness. Retrieved [February 3, 2019] from [

(3) Miller, A. L., Lumeng, J. C., & LeBourgeois, M. K. (2015). Sleep patterns and obesity in childhood. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity, 22(1), 41-7.

4) Harvard T.H. Chan: School for Public Health. (2019). Obesity Prevention Source. Retrieved [February 3, 2019] from


(5) Scott, Nicola et al. “Sleep patterns in children with ADHD: a population-based cohort study from birth to 11 years” Journal of sleep research vol. 22,2 (2012): 121-8. Retrieved [February 9, 2019] from []

(6) Keller PS, Gilbert, L.R., Haak, E.A., Shuang, B., & Smith, O.A. (2017, in press). Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools, Sleep Health (2017), Retrieved [February 7, 2019] from[ ]

(7) Buckhalt, Joseph A. (Feb 27, 2018) Earlier Start Times for Elementary Schools. Psychology Today. Retrieved [February 5, 2019] from


(8) Start School Later. (2019). Start School Later: Healthy Hours. Retrieved [February 5, 2019] from []

(9) McGreevey, Sue. March 10, 2017. Study flags later risks for sleep deprived kids. The

Harvard Gazette. Retrieved [February 6, 2019] from

[ ]

(10) Brian Callahan: Newburyport School Committee. (2017) Start Time Changes in High

Schools of Massachusetts. Retrieved [February 5, 2019] from [

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