American Sleep and Epilepsy Centers
School Start Times for Teens
School Start Times for Teens
"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," said Ben Franklin. But does
this adage apply to teenagers? Research in the 1990s found that later sleep and wake patterns
among adolescents are biologically determined; the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late
at night and wake up later in the morning. This research indicates that school bells that ring as early
as 7:00 a.m. in many parts of the country stand in stark contrast with adolescents' sleep patterns and
Evidence suggests that teenagers are indeed seriously sleep deprived. A recent poll conducted by
the National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of children under the age of 18 complained of being
tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15% said they fell asleep at school during the
On April 2 of 1999, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), introduced a congressional resolution to encourage
schools and school districts to reconsider early morning start times to be more in sync with teens'
biological makeup. House Congressional Resolution 135 or the "ZZZ's to A’s" Act would encourage
individual schools and school districts all over the country to move school start times to no earlier
than 8:30 a.m.
"I hope this is a wake up call to school districts and parents all over this country," said Lofgren. "With
early school start times, some before 7:00 a.m., adolescents are not getting enough sleep.
"Over time, sleep deprivation leads to serious consequences for academic achievement, social
behavior, and the health and safety of our nation's youth," the Congresswoman added. "We must
encourage schools to push back their start times to at least 8:30 a.m. — a schedule more in tune with
adolescents' biological sleep and wake patterns and more closely resembling the adult work day."
In fact, public opinion seems to side with Lofgren's "Zzz's to A's" resolution. According to the National
Sleep Foundation's 2002 Sleep in America poll, 80% of respondents said high schools should start
no earlier than 8:00 a.m. each day; nearly one-half of these respondents (47%) said start times
should be between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Only 17% of those polled said high school classes should
begin before 8:00 a.m.
A study by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota, demonstrates the impact of pushing
back school start times. After the Minneapolis Public School District changed the starting times of
seven high schools from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., Dr. Wahlstrom investigated the impact of later start
times on student performance, and the results are encouraging. Dr. Wahlstrom found that students
benefited by obtaining five or more extra hours of sleep per week.
She also found improvement in attendance and enrollment rates, increased daytime alertness, and
decreased student-reported depression. Many experts agree that adolescents require 81/2 to 91/4
hours of sleep each night, however, few actually get that much sleep.
Even with compelling research, changing school start times can be challenging for school districts.
Administrators have to delay busing schedules. Coaches worry about scheduling practices and many
parents rely on the current start times for reasons such as childcare or carpools.
Students are concerned that being in school later in the day means that it will cut into after-school
jobs and other extracurricular activities. Still, there are convincing reasons to push back school start
times. Mary Carskadon, PhD, a renowned expert on adolescent sleep, cites several advantages for
teens to get the sleep they need:
•less likelihood of experiencing depressed moods;
•reduced likelihood for tardiness;
•reduced risk of fall asleep car crashes; and
•reduced risk of metabolic and nutritional deficits associated with insufficient sleep, including obesity.
Dr. Carskadon is Director of the Chronobiology/Sleep Research Laboratory at Bradley Hospital in East
Providence, R.I., and Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Brown
University School of Medicine. She is a member of NSF's Sleep and Teens Task Force. With the
resumption of school classes in the fall, start times are likely to remain a hot topic. Thus far, individual
schools or districts in 19 states have pushed back their start times, and more than 100 school districts
in an additional 17 states are considering delaying their start times.
"Changing school start times is not the only step needed," says Dr. Carskadon. She also advocates
reducing weekend sleep lag (staying up later). "It's important to add sleep to the school curriculum at
all grade levels and make sleep a positive priority."
Advocating for Sleep Friendly Schools can seem like a challenging task; however, here you will find
tips, guides sample materials and case studies to support your efforts and help you conduct your
advocacy campaign. Sleep is so important to all of us, and for teens it seems nearly impossible to get
enough. So don't sleep on it; start today to help create sleep-friendly schools that promote healthy,
safe and productive students!
Did you know that for teenagers to function best, it is suggested that they get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of
sleep every night? With the morning bell ringing as early as 7:00 am, your teenage son or daughter
would need to fall asleep by about 9:00 pm in order to leave enough time to get ready in the morning
for middle or high school. For most parents, if would be an amazing feat to see your teenager fall
asleep that early. One study found that only 15 percent of adolescents reported sleeping 8.5 hours
on school nights. It is not uncommon for teenagers to make them sleepy around 11:00 pm, which
does not allow for much snooze time before they’re up and ready for school.
There has been recent debate regarding whether school times should be moved to a later time to
combat student sleepiness and to meet the adolescents’ circadian clock. Studies have listed a variety
of pros suggesting why school times should be adjusted. Participating schools have found:
Improved attendance and enrollment rates.
Increased daytime alertness
Decreased student reported depression
Decreased risk of fall asleep car crashes
Decreased substance abuse
Decreased obesity risk
How will adjusting school start times by as little as one hour contribute to all of these positive
outcomes? One might say that a happy teenager is a well rested teenager. While your teenager
might not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm, just one extra hour of sleep in the morning will help
to improve mood, interpersonal relationships, memory consolidation, muscle repair, and daytime
alertness which is important for that “boring geometry class or driving home from school. Also, drowsy
students are more likely to choose sugary snacks and caffeinated soft drinks to help them battle the
midday slump. This has been cited as a major contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2002 Sleep in America poll, 80 percent of
respondents said high schools should start no earlier than 8:00 am. If you agree, there are several
ways you can get involved. It is important to be well prepared to educate other parents, teachers, and
other influential members of the community. Like any controversial issue, there will be people
opposed to the change. The National Sleep Foundation’s web site has hard data to aid you.
Sleep Tips for Teens
- Try to get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night, even on the weekend.
- Set aside time and create a routine that will allow you to relax and unwind before bed. Empty your
mind of all your worries so you sleep soundly.
- Choose snacks or drinks that are caffeine free 4 to 6 hours before going to bed.
- Before bedtime, stick to activities that do not require a lot of bright light so your body can prepare
- Exercising or playing sports after school, rather than right before bed will help you sleep better.
- Avoid situations that might keep you awake such as socializing late with friends, television, text
messaging, facebook, web surfing, video games, etc. when you should be winding down and trying
to fall asleep.
- Make sleep a priority. It is just as important as eating healthy and exercising regularly.
- Create a sleep sanctuary -- a special place to sleep.
- Teach your friends to be sleep savvy!