School & District Management

U.S. Schools Still Start Too Early, CDC Reports

By Maggie DeBlasis — August 13, 2015 2 min read
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As any teenager will mumble from beneath the covers on Monday mornings, it’s too early.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees.

In a new report, the CDC says that middle and high schools in the country start too early. Five out of every six U.S. middle and high schools start before 8:30 a.m., possibly leading to insufficient time slept and academic struggles, and increases in health risks and safety concerns.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” said Anne Wheaton, PhD., lead author and epidemiologist of the CDC’s Population Health division, in a press release. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

This isn’t new territory. Previous research found teenagers need about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report, two out of three high school students don’t get that recommended amount, a statistic that’s been steady since 2007. As puberty sets in, adolescents experience a later release of melatonin and an altered sleep drive that indicates “the average teenager in today’s society has difficulty falling asleep before 11:00 p.m. and is best suited to wake at 8:00 a.m. or later.” But with such early start times, schools are making those precious eight to nine hours all the more elusive. (Especially problematic for students who have long commutes.)

Here’s how each state compares in average start time:

Only two states—Alaska and North Dakota—start after the recommended 8:30 a.m. start time, LiveScience found. Iowa, Minnesota, and Florida all have the next latest starting times sometime after 8:15 a.m. Louisiana has the earliest average start time (7:40 a.m.) followed by Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Mississippi. Approximately 43 percent of the more than 18,000 public high schools in the U.S. start before 8 a.m., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Schools in suburban areas tend to start the earliest, at 7:51 a.m. on average, the 2012 Schools and Staffing Survey found, while schools within cities start an average of 14 minutes later. Some schools have even seen start times moved earlier in recent years.

Too little sleep has been proven in studies to lead to an increased prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders, use of stimulants (coffee, for example), drowsy driving-related crashes, and subsequent risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic dysfunction. By starting later, studies have shown students’ academic achievement improving, less absences, and better end-of-year test scores.

But changing the beginning of the school day can affect other aspects of life. School athletics, student jobs, and family schedules all top the list of barriers that would need to be adjusted for later school times, according to a 2011 Brookings Institution report. But the same report suggests that the positive effects of later start times on students’ health could lead to improved achievement, and thus, future economic gains.

Image via danna (curious tangles)/Flickr Creative Commons

More on students’ sleeping:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.