Early Class Times a problem for cafeterias

We’ve heard it before: students are tired. To be more precise, they’re chronically sleep deprived. Multiple studies have shown students are regularly not getting enough sleep and as a result, kids end up face down in their books during class. Again, this isn’t that surprising for many.

What may be surprising, however, is how sleepy students affect a school’s nutrition program. Think about it: tired students are going to be groggy and sluggish in the morning and as a result, will probably skip out on breakfast. Odds are that kids who reluctantly roll out of bed 5 minutes before class don’t have time to eat. Not good if you’re trying to boost your breakfast participation. And lunch? Students who are barely keeping their heads up throughout the day aren’t expending that much energy and won’t tend to eat as if they were active. For those sleepy students who are grabbing a lunch, they’ll eat less and guess what – more will end up in the trash.

at least 75% of schools start class earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Much of the press on sleep deprived kids associates lack of sleep and lower student performance – a fair point considering the importance of students receiving quality education – but little thought is given to what perpetually tired students mean for a school cafeteria. As schools struggle to increase participation and compete with off-campus eating and fast food, having students too groggy to eat doesn’t play to their advantage.

What’s a school to do? The answer is fairly obvious: start class later.

How Later Class Times Help School Cafeterias

Despite requests from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 75% of schools start class earlier than 8:30 a.m. These early classes can be a real problem as a teenager’s natural sleep cycle runs later in the morning. Research on later class times from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) found, “attendance, standardized test scores and academic performance in math, English, science and social studies improved…tardiness, substance abuse, symptoms of depression, and consumption of caffeinated drinks decreased.”

“Even a start time of 8:35 a.m. allows 57-60 percent of students to get eight or more hours of sleep, which is an important health benefit for a majority of students”

With later class periods, students will have more time to sleep, wake up, and actually get an appetite for breakfast. If kids are no longer shuffling into class last second, cafeterias won’t have to work as hard enticing them to sit down and grab a bite in the morning. Schools can help further by offering programs like Breakfast After The Bell to give students even more time to catch a break and eat their meal without fear of making it to class on time. And when it comes to lunch, more alert and active students who’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep will naturally be hungrier come lunch time.

“Even a start time of 8:35 a.m. allows 57-60 percent of students to get eight or more hours of sleep, which is an important health benefit for a majority of students,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, director of CAREI. “Local school districts, school personnel, parents, and students need to understand the importance of sleep and to make choices using the knowledge from this and other studies.”