Canadian schools reluctant to embrace later bell times despite research

Ten to 18-year-olds got an extra three minutes of sleep for a 10-minute delay in school start time

A wave of international research that suggests delaying high school start times would have health and academic benefits for students has not yet crested in Canada.

Several individual boards and schools have embraced the growing number of global studies suggesting that early start times are at odds with adolescents’ natural sleep patterns and can hamper both their academic progress and mental health.

But Canadian authorities have yet to join their international counterparts in recommending later bell times, and researchers are only starting to look at the impact of school hours on Canadian students.

Still, some school boards are considering putting the idea to the test.

RELATED: EMS staff urge end to dual-bell system at South Surrey high school

One school board in northwestern Ontario has already done so and declared the experiment a success.

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board moved to “harmonize” school start times three years ago, pushing the start of high school class times back as much as an hour in some cases.

The board’s director of education, Sean Monteith, said he’d been championing the shift for years, saying there were particularly compelling reasons to put the policy in place at a school board that covers two time zones and caters to many students in far-flung Indigenous communities.

Early start times coupled with long commutes, he said, were taking an obvious toll on students.

“Kids were failing out. Kids were dropping out. They weren’t doing well,” Monteith said in a telephone interview. “To continue to allow the same historical practice to go on at the expense of kids dropping out was just simply unacceptable.”

Students at the board’s six high schools now start their day at 9 a.m., up to 50 minutes later than they used to before the policy went into effect in 2014.

The practical benefits emerged immediately, Monteith said, adding the move allowed the board to improve course selections by co-ordinating e-learning opportunities across the vast territory his schools serve.

Monteith said the success of the shift is evident in the declining dropout rates and rising attendance figures that he’s observed in the past three years. But the true test will come at the end of the new academic year when the board will have a chance to see whether the new approach has improved graduation rates for the first cohort to start class later throughout their high school days.

Extra sleep a plus for students

Monteith’s results would come as no surprise to researchers who have studied the effects of extra sleep on student performance.

Numerous studies from the United States and Europe document not only pervasive sleep deprivation among teens, but the effects that deprivation has on numerous aspects of their lives.

Lack of sleep has been linked to challenges with everything from academic performance to obesity to mental illness.

The evidence was convincing enough to prompt the American Academy of Pediatrics to name lack of sleep as a public health issue for teens and specifically name school start times as a factor.

Last year, a team of McGill University researchers set out to assess the state of school start times in Canada and their potential impact on student sleep patterns.

The study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, showed an average start time of 8:43 a.m. among the 362 schools sampled. They also found that the later the opening bell rang, the more time students spent in bed.

Study participants aged 10 to 18 got an additional three minutes of sleep for every 10-minute delay in their school start time.

Lead researcher Genevieve Gariepy said those extra minutes all help bring the school day more in line with the average teenaged biological clock, which operates differently from those of either adults or younger children.

“What happens is our circadian rhythms…get shifted by about one or two hours when puberty starts. So adolescents tend to just fall asleep later and wake up later,” she said. “Adolescents will typically fall asleep around 11 or midnight and wake up around eight hours later.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Red Deer College waiting for feds to finalize marijuana legalization

Like businesses, Alberta and municipal governments, Red Deer College is waiting for… Continue reading

Class size only part of the problem say Central Alberta teachers

Though the Alberta auditor general’s report points out that classroom sizes continue… Continue reading

Lacombe County promoting crime prevention measures

County pushing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles

Red Deer doctor concerned about patient transfers to rural hospitals

Family physician says the move creates less incentive for expansion at Red Deer hospital

Fire permit season begins in March

Earlier springs in last few years prompted Alberta government to move up fire permit season

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be… Continue reading

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

As Olympics wrap up, still no coverage in North Korea

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — While hundreds of millions of the world’s… Continue reading

Supplier to NHL’s Calgary Flames breathes again as B.C. wine ban suspended

VICTORIA — The operators of a small British Columbia winery that landed… Continue reading

Canada’s men’s hockey team beats Czechs to win Olympic bronze

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Canada’s men’s hockey team has won the… Continue reading

Duncan apologizes for behaviour after drunken joyride in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Canadian ski cross racer Dave Duncan is… Continue reading

In Pyeongchang, maintaining Olympic venues relies on a poor, aging workforce

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Hockey players from Finland were circling with the… Continue reading

Trudeau’s fashion missteps highlight what not to wear on vacation

TORONTO — The traditional garb that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his… Continue reading

Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month