Using knowledge of sleep science to affect public policy: High school start times

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One of the APA Intro Psych key themes is “Applying psychological principles can change our lives, organizations, and communities in positive ways” (APA Introductory Psychology Initiative, 2021). In this post, I suggest a way that students can use what they have learned in their Intro Psych course to try to affect public policy.

The scientific evidence is clear that good sleep increases our readiness to learn and that the adolescent circadian rhythm tends to lean toward falling asleep later and waking later. This NPR article explains that the reluctance of school boards to change the high school start time to later in the morning is not so much about not understanding or believing the science but are rather about money and logistics (Sweeney, 2023). Perhaps it’s time to prioritize teen sleep and find ways to overcome these barriers.

In this assignment, we will write a letter to our school board using what we have learned about sleep in this course. For the purpose of this assignment, you are not required to send your letter. However, if you feel strongly about this issue, I encourage you to send it.

  1. Identify the school board you would like to address. It could be for the district where you currently attend or had attended high school, or it could be for the district where your children or other relatives attend school.  
  2. Investigate what time the district’s high school(s) start classes.
  3. Use the “Writing Letters to Elected Officials” webpage provided by the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas to create the framework for your letter (Chapter 33. Conducting a Direct Action Campaign | Section 1. Writing Letters to Elected Officials, n.d.).
    1. Provide a respectful and professional opening
    2. Explain the purpose for writing, e.g., you are interested in the district changing the high school start time to later in the morning, to congratulate the district on their later high school start time.
    3. Summarize your understanding, e.g., what impact do you expect that a change in start time will have for students. This may be as simple as, “My understanding is that a later school start time will mean students will be able to get the sleep they need.”
    4. Explain your position. Identify at least three pieces of scientific evidence that supports your position on later school start time. You may use information from the National Sleep Foundation position statement (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.),  American Academy of Sleep Medicine health advisory on school start times (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2017), your textbook, your instructor, or peer reviewed scientific articles. For each piece of evidence, cite your source.
    5. Describe the impact that a later high school start time had, will have, or would have had on you personally.
    6. Provide statistics on how many people in the district are or would be positively affected by a later high school start time.
    7. If the person you are writing to has expressed support in the past for your position, acknowledge it.
    8. Ask how you can help the district adopt a later high school start time, or if a later start time has been adopted, ask if they have suggestions on how you can help other school boards make this same change.
    9. Lastly, thank them for their time. Sign off with your name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.

 

References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2017). Health advisory: School start times. https://aasm.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/school-start-times-sleep-health-advisory.pdf

APA Introductory Psychology Initiative. (2021). APA Introductory Psychology Initiative student learning outcomes for Introductory Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/about/policy/introductory-psychology-initiative-student-outcomes.pdf

Chapter 33. Conducting a direct action campaign | Section 1. Writing letters to elected officials. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2023, from https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/advocacy/direct-action/letters-to-elected-officials/main

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Healthy adolescent school start times: A sleep health policy statement from the National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved November 13, 2023, from https://www.thensf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/NSF-Sleep-Health-Policy-Statement_School-Start-Tim...

Sweeney, C. (2023, November 9). Science says teens need more sleep. So why is it so hard to start school later? NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2023/11/09/1211610533/science-says-teens-need-more-sleep-s...

 

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.