Yalda Khodadad’s days usually end at 1 a.m., which leaves her six hours to sleep before her phone alarm wakes her at 7 a.m. It’s typically hard to wake up, and she allows herself to hit snooze on her alarm clock once or twice until 7:30. Then she showers, gets dressed, eats breakfast, drives to school and tries to make it to class by the time the 8:10 a.m. bell rings.
Khodadad, a senior at Los Altos High, said that getting six hours of sleep each night is actually good for her. The bad nights are when she gets more like four hours, which can happen if she’s been up late working on the school’s newspaper or studying for an exam. Those days, she said, she notices she’s irritable and distracted.
“You’ll go in for a reading quiz and you know you’ve done the reading because you stayed up all night reading, but just because you’re so tired, you can’t focus,” Khodadad said.
School at Mountain View and Los Altos highs starts at 8:10 a.m. weekdays, except Wednesdays, and some parents are trying to push that start time later.
“Sleeping eight to nine hours per night definitely means happier and more resilient teens,” said Dr. Cara Barone, a local pediatrician, at a recent Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District board meeting. “We live in an area where success is very narrowly defined, and we encourage our kids to compete in an unhealthy race for achievement.”
At the same board meeting, district parent and local therapist Nannette Thomas said she’s seen the district change over the past decade and a half. She reported that she hears from clients, her family and friends that there are increasing numbers of kids who don’t want to go to school and who struggle with anxiety and depression.
“The causes are complex, but it feels like everything went up just a little bit, and now students’ schedules are no longer workable,” Thomas said at the board meeting. “It feels like everything went up 5 percent and it exploded for many students.”
Thomas, Barone and more than 60 local doctors, psychologists and dentists signed a letter to district trustees, asking them to move the start of school to 9 a.m. or later.
A multifaceted issue
On the other hand, Khodadad said that while she likes the idea of a later start time, she isn’t sure that a later start time is going to make a difference in students’ lives. She’s aware of the research showing that teenagers need to go to sleep later and wake up later than adults, but the reason she stays up isn’t because she’s not tired, it’s because she has work to do.
“I just think it’s the mentality we’ve adopted: unless you take at least four APs, you won’t get into college,” she said.
She said she remembers getting enough sleep her freshman year of high school, before she was taking any Advanced Placement classes. This year, five of her six classes are APs, which she said is not outside the norm. Many of her friends take more.
“With the workload we get, having a later start time and getting out later will mean we’ll just go to bed even later,” Khodadad said. “We’ll just go to bed at 2 a.m. instead of 1 a.m.”
Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill last year that would require most California middle and high schools to delay school start times to 8:30 a.m. The bill in some form has been in the State Legislature for years but has never been enacted into law.
However, Homestead High School, which serves students who live in south Los Altos, recently changed its first period start times to 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. depending on the day, and Alta Vista High School already starts at 9 a.m.
A Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District official said the district commissioned a study on school start times, but changing the school’s start times has not been put on the agenda for any upcoming board meetings.
“This is something that is under active investigation, and … we are moving forward on this issue of a later start time,” Trustee Phil Faillace said at the board meeting where community members voiced their concerns.