Delaying the start of the school day until 8:30 a.m. and letting students sleep a little longer would contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy within 10 years, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.
It’s estimated that 82 percent of middle and high schools begin earlier than 8:30 a.m., with an average start time of 8:03 a.m., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pediatric health experts argue that school days should start at 8:30 a.m. or later due to teen-wake schedules, the study authors explained.
Up to 60 percent of teens don’t get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. Poor sleep among young people has been associated with worse mental and physical health, problems with concentration and academic success, and thoughts of suicide, the researchers said.
Taking a long-term financial approach to the issue, the RAND researchers analyzed the economic implications — such as transportation costs — of a later school start time in 47 states. The investigators found that within two years, the U.S. economy would gain $8.6 billion. After 15 years, a later school start time would add $140 billion.
“For years we’ve talked about inadequate sleep among teenagers being a public health epidemic, but the economic implications are just as significant,” said Wendy Troxel. She is a senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation.
“From a policy perspective, the potential implications of the study are hugely important. The significant economic benefits from simply delaying school start times to 8.30 a.m. would be felt in a matter of years, making this a win-win, both in terms of benefiting the public health of adolescents and doing so in a cost-effective manner,” Troxel explained in a RAND news release.
On average, a shift in the start to the school day would correspond with an annual gain of roughly $9.3 billion to the nation’s economy. These economic gains would quickly exceed the transportation costs of delaying the school day, such as rescheduling bus route times, the study found.
According to Marco Hafner, a senior economist at RAND Europe, the European affiliate of the RAND Corporation, “A small change could result in big economic benefits over a short period of time for the U.S. In fact, the level of benefit and period of time it would take to recoup the costs from the policy change is unprecedented in economic terms.”
Extra sleep would improve students’ mental and physical health and enhance their school performance, which would have positive long-term economic effects, the researchers said.
Previous estimates suggest that one more hour of sleep each night would, on average, increase the likelihood that students graduate high school by 13 percent, and boost the odds that they attend college by more than 9 percent. This would affect the jobs that students are able to get in the future as well as their potential earnings and financial contribution, the RAND researchers said.
Data compiled on car accidents also showed that 20 percent of deaths resulting from crashes involved a sleepy or tired driver. Car accidents involving young adults have long-term consequences on the labor market and the economy, the study authors added.
“Throughout the cost-benefit projections, we have taken a conservative approach when establishing the economic gains,” Hafner said. “We have not included other effects from insufficient sleep — such as higher suicide rates, increased obesity and mental health issues — which are all difficult to quantify precisely. Therefore, it is likely that the reported economic and health benefits from delaying school start times could be even higher across many U.S. states.”
To read the full report, visit the RAND Corporation website.