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Starting high school later is better for teens

Harold Mandel's picture
Graduating high school students

Researchers have found that teens benefit from starting high school later.


Teens need a lot of sleep for their health and well being. Starting high school later in the day appears to benefit the interests of teens.

Teens seem to benefit from later school start times

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports a review has suggested that teens benefit from high school beginning at later times. A review of scientific literature has revealed that high school start times have an association with positive outcomes in teens. These positive outcomes include longer sleep durations during the weekdays and less motor vehicle accidents.

The researchers say that there was an increase by an average of 19 minutes of increased sleep duration on school nights when the starting time for school was 60 minutes later. The total sleep time was found to increase by about 53 minutes when school start times were greater than 60 minutes later.

Less motor vehicle accidents were seen when school started later

There were other benefits associated with starting school later. Less motor vehicle accidents were seen when school began at a later time. There was also less subjective sleepiness during the day and decreased differences between durations of sleep on school and weekend nights when school started later.

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Lead author Timothy I. Morgenthaler, MD, who is the past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says this review was intended to bring some rigor into an evaluation of how various aspects of health and performance in high school students are affected by starting school later. There is a belief among many people that a primary reason students do not get enough sleep is because of early school start times.

The earliest time recommended for school to start by the American Academy of Pediatrics is 8:30 am. Yet it has been discovered that 85.6 percent of high schools in the United States start before 8:30 am. There have therefore been initiatives to start schools at a later time.

It is recommended that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 years should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended that adolescents who are between the ages of 13 and 18 years should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours on a regularly in order to promote optimal health. Yet the CDC reports data shows approximately 69 percent of high school students get less than 8 hours of sleep on an average night of school.

A majority of teens to have a biological preference for going to sleep late at night

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says there is a natural shift in the timing of the body’s internal “circadian” clock during puberty. This causes the majority of teens to have a biological preference for going to sleep late at night. This can result in a conflict with school starting times which are early.

Dr. Morgenthaler points out that the future of the United States is literally dependent on the mental, physical and educational excellence of our students in high school. Yet the most recent surveys show that less than 33 percent of students in high school get adequate sleep. This is troubling because lack of adequate sleep has been found to be associated with poorer mental health, less ability to learn well, higher obesity rates, more motor vehicle accidents, and higher rates of substance abuse.

This study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Research supports the view that later school start times are beneficial for the health and well being of teens. There should be initiatives to start high schools later and to encourage teens to get adequate sleep.