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Schools Start Too Early

Student sleeping in classStarting school later can help improve an adolescent’s health, academic performance and quality of life.

Most American adolescents start school too early. According to a CDC study that analyzed US Department of Education data from the 2011-2012 school year, less than 1 of 5 middle and high schools began at 8:30 a.m. or later. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to allow students the opportunity to get the recommended amount of sleep on school nights, about 8.5-9.5 hours. Insufficient sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance.

Study Results

  • Among an estimated 39,700 public middle, high, and combined schools in the United States, the average start time was 8:03 a.m.
  • 42 states reported that most (75%-100%) public schools started before 8:30 a.m.
  • The percentage of schools starting at 8:30 a.m. or later varied greatly. For example,
    • No schools in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming started after 8:30 a.m.
    • Most schools in schools in North Dakota (78%) and Alaska (76%) started after 8:30 a.m.
    • Louisiana had the earliest average school start time (7:40 AM) and Alaska had the latest average school start time (8:33 AM).
Alert student in class, raising hand

Adequate sleep enables improved academic performance.

What are the effects of early school start times on adolescents?

  • Adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to
    • Be overweight.
    • Not engage in daily physical activity.
    • Suffer from depressive symptoms.
    • Engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs.
    • Perform poorly in school.
  • Students who get about 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night can improve their health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life.

Everyone Can Play an Important Role


  • Model and encourage habits that help promote good sleep such as
    • Setting a regular bedtime and rise time, including on weekends, is recommended for everyone— children, adolescents, and adults alike.
      • Adolescents with parent-set bedtimes usually get more sleep than those whose parents do not set bedtimes.
    • Dim lighting, adolescents who are exposed to more light (such as room lighting or from electronics) in the evening are less likely to get enough sleep.
    • Implement a “media curfew,-technology use (computers, video gaming, or mobile phones) may also contribute to late bedtimes. Parents should consider banning technology use after a certain time or removing these technologies from the bedroom.
  • Contact local school officials about later school start times. Be aware of some commonly mentioned barriers, such as concerns about increased transportation costs and scheduling difficulties.

Health care professionals

  • Educate adolescent patients and their parents about the importance of adequate sleep and factors that contribute to insufficient sleep among adolescents.

School officials

  • Learn more about the research connecting sleep and school start times. Good sleep hygiene in combination with later school times will enable adolescents to be healthier and better academic achievers.